July 23rd, 2012
11:38 PM ET

Questioning Aurora suspect's sanity

Experts say the Colorado theater shooting case is likely to drag on for a long time. Jeffrey Toobin, Mark Geragos and Mary Ellen O’Toole discuss the evidence in the trial of the shooting suspect.

Former FBI profiler, O’Toole, says there are three myths surrounding this case that she wants to set straight.

Myth 1: Someone who engages in such extreme violence cannot also be extremely intelligent
Myth 2: Someone who engages in this kind of extreme violence has to be ‘crazy’
Myth 3: Someone who engages in this kind of extreme violence must come from a dysfunctional family

“Those are three myths I think are being put out there and they’re simply not my experience in working these kinds of cases,” O’Toole tells Anderson.

CNN’s senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin explains the logic behind an insanity plea. “If you don’t know what you’re doing, if you think you are chopping down a tree when you are killing someone, then you are legally insane.”

However, Toobin tells Anderson that in this case, purchasing the weapons beforehand, “would certainly argue against a finding of insanity because it suggests he knew what he was doing at least in terms of buying guns to shoot them.”

Criminal defense attorney Mark Geragos says that Colorado does have the death penalty, but it is rarely used. “If you’re ever going to have anybody who is a candidate for the death penalty this would seem to be the poster child,” he tells Anderson.

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Filed under: Colorado Shooting
soundoff (39 Responses)
  1. peter

    he is not crazy just stupid. he wants to play crazy so he wont get what he really desvers. he pre planned everything and he should get whats coming to him.

    July 26, 2012 at 10:11 am |
  2. Hodo

    He isnt insane. An insane person doesnt preplan everything then have a moment of clarity to tell the police that his apartment is rigged to explode.

    July 26, 2012 at 9:26 am |
  3. Nate brown

    If this guy was insane there would have been a moment where his right mind would have kicked in , and out of the realization of his conscious, of what he have done , he would have committed the same act on himself. leaving with the reason to his death. but decided save his life, and kill whoever came after him. so now he only remember how to act insane and forgot he was suppose to kill his self, and dying with the reason. well the state should really help him do that part and then he, and all the familes, including his and all of us would know why he died.

    July 25, 2012 at 10:20 pm |
  4. Amanda R

    just wondering if anyone else notice that his pupils were dilated and if anyone could provide info as to what causes them to be that way? I mean everyone knows they react to the amount of light in a room(brighter=smaller, darker=wider) it couldn't have been very dark in the courtroom so I ask again what causes this?

    July 25, 2012 at 9:35 pm |
  5. Maureen

    If a person is sound enough of mind to request a lawyer and keep their mouth shut when being questioned after committing a crime, especially a crime of this magnitude, then that person is sound enough of mind to stand responsible for their actions. That being said, there is not a question in my mind that this monster is CRAZY, one has to be to mass murder complete strangers for no reason, but being crazy and being insane are two completely different scenarios. Crazy usually coincides with evil while insanity is a true disconnection from reality and the impact of one's actions on others. Very few criminals are truly insane, most are just purely evil and crazy.

    July 25, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
    • tito

      I fully agree with you . how an insane can be a PhD student!!?? he is a terrorist killer

      July 26, 2012 at 5:34 am |
  6. Ron

    I remember that the shooter in the U of T Austin sniper shootings in 1966 was found to have an aggressive brain tumor. It has not been mentioned at all but I wonder if Holmes could have some serious physical condition that is affecting his behavior? Especially since the insanity appears to have come on so quickly. I'd like to hear a doctor weigh in on that possibility.

    July 25, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
    • simonteddy

      I had the same thought. It would be very unlikely, but a highly aggressive brain tumor impacting the frontal lobes (like Charles Whitman-the Austin mass murderer- had) could radically change his personality and push him over the edge. I have to laugh at how certain everyone is when in reality none of us really has a clue about what's going on in this guy's head.

      July 25, 2012 at 11:15 pm |
  7. Michael

    No he is NOT insane. The guy pre planned every move no matter how deranged. He studied the human psyche and will use it like a puppet master. He needs to die. Try him in a military court as a terrorist and kill him

    July 25, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
  8. Bobby

    Red wig, bug eyes, drooping eyelids–my 5th grader could do better than that in a Halloween act! This guy is a total faker!

    July 25, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
  9. Gigi

    No way this guy is crazy, or insane, and to me he is a sick and twisted genius. To Bobby trap your home in the manner that he did would have to indicate a high degree of intelligence, I would like to see an average everyday person do the same without highly harming themselves. Part 2, he doesnt have to be crazy to have committed this act of violence, point blank all he had to do is make up his mind that he wanted to committ this crime, set his mind to it, and go to town. Part 3, his family upbringing could have nothing to do with this, he could have had the mother, father, white picket fence and Lassie the dog and still committed this crime. It was an isolated incident in which a man mad a decision to commit mass murder, and took all the steps he needed to to get it done. And accomplished his goal successfully. I do not believe he was crazy before hand cause he did way to much detailed planning..... however he may be crazy now after committing the crime.

    July 25, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
  10. Jennifer

    Has anyone ever considered that maybe he is part of his own experiment? He is very smart and has studied the brain and for someone to ask for a lawyer after he killed people is not insane. If he has studied temporal illusions and whatever else he has studied maybe he decided to be part of his own experiment. He is actually trying to see if you can be a part of or change a temporal illusion or whatever else he has studied. Just a thought

    July 25, 2012 at 10:06 am |
  11. Denise

    He looked so fake in the courts, not like he really was in a daze more like a big show being put on. Considering his first request was for a lawyer he is in no way mentally incapable of standing trial.

    July 24, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
    • Danny boy

      He must have had a death wish !... I say give him what he wished for !!........

      July 25, 2012 at 9:59 am |
    • Lisa Marie, Walnut Creek, California

      You got that right . . .this case may set the standard for criminals who try to fake insanity and are stupid enough to think it will work!!

      July 25, 2012 at 11:42 am |
    • Mark Hudson

      I totally agree with you. Feigning insanity to avoid the death penalty.

      July 25, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
  12. Lisa O'Donnell

    I wanted to send a sincere thank you to Anderson Cooper for his coverage of the tragedy in Colorado on his show last night. He was sensitive to the families and friends he interviewed. He was sincerely compassionate and suppportive. It was a beautiful tribute to the victims of these horrific shootings. I haven't watched a lot of the coverage, it is too painful to watch, but I did see the show last night and was relieved to hear the honest and heartfelt testimonies of love and friendship to those who were killed or injured. Thank you CNN.

    July 24, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
  13. Patty

    Crazy thought maybe he his is being interrogated with questions and hasn't slept since the shootings. I don't think he is crazy or it's an act. Try common sense people.

    July 24, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
    • Matt

      Patty, it's funny that you tell us people to use common sense, and that the reasoning of Holmes looking the way he did in court is simply because he "didn't get enough sleep since the shootings". He has almost all day to sleep in solitary, therefore he isn't interrogated 24/7.

      I barely sleep as it is, and when I'm having crash course studying for college graduate exams, I sometimes get none at all. I certainly DON'T look like that. You can't tell people to "use common sense" just because they don't share your unlikely theory.

      July 25, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
  14. jimmy

    I don't believe he is insane, but there is probably some sort or mental disorder.

    July 24, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
  15. Wendy

    Anderson, I understand that Mr. Holmes had listed himself on an adult website, just a few days leading up to the shooting in Aurora. The post's heading, "Will you visit me in jail?" might suggest that he understood on some level, the consequences of his realized plans. Can a schizophrenic float in and out of consciousness and/or conscience?

    July 24, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
  16. Vicky

    Please interview experts on schizophrenia and psychosis as they would contradict the opinion of the man with the purple tie. Insanity is not "shooting people and thinking you are cutting a tree" You are doing a great disservice to psychiatric patients by voicing erroneous views. Mistaken views like these are what cause schizophrenics to never self-identify or perhaps even seek treatment to their detriment.

    July 24, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
  17. Julie

    He is clearly psychotic. He believes he is The Joker. What he did in the movie theater is something only "The Joker" would do. The Joker would also elaborately plan out his schemes - the booby traps he set in his apartment is more evidence of this. Look at the content of the 2006 video that ABC is passing around showing him giving a science lecture. ABC says "Gee, he appears normal in 2006." At first glance it shows a guy who [could be] construed as normal... but wait, what's that he's talking about. He is talking about the "science" of temporal illusions and being able to change the past with your mind. Does that sound normal? This could have been the beginning or the middle of his delusional state that led to him becoming The Joker in his own mind today. He is CLEARLY PSYCHOTIC. He needs help; and while my heart goes out to the victims and their families of this terrible tragedy, in order for healing to begin, we must look at the underlying cause of this. This is a young man who had a break from reality and he does need help.

    July 24, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
    • Lisa Marie, Walnut Creek, California

      There are plenty of people who believe in alternate reality and believe one can create their present reality, that does not mean a person is psychotic. . . and it takes a lot of planning and studying to rig the traps he had in his house. He, no doubt, planned to act crazy if he got caught!!!!

      July 25, 2012 at 11:51 am |
  18. Tia

    He has not gone insane. A insane person wouldn't have done what he did. Any sane person who has a motive would do what he did. He tripped out his house, dressed up, starting shooting, then go back to his car, and ask for a lawyer after? I mean really... that doesn't sound like a person that's insane. He already said he was into supernatural things in the 06 video. My guess? he's trying to make something that is natural and turn it into something that is supernatural.

    July 24, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
  19. Kim

    He definitely has some mental issues, however the insanity defense will not work. He knows right from wrong. He had tthe mental competence to pull off everything including booby trapping his apartment. This is not an issue that warrants more gun control. He had a squeaky clean background and could legally purchase a gun. The issue here is mental illness. Nobody wants to talk about it. Most people don't know how to recoginze the symptoms, and if they did, they would not know what to do about it. This is a HUGE flaw in our society that needs to be addressed and fixed. In most cases like this friends and family, in hindsight can usually remember something that wasn't right.

    July 24, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
  20. Jim in Dallas

    Crazy as a rabid dog. A brilliant mind going wrong. This kind of madness can never be stopped and no amount of gun control or mountain of laws can prevent it. Remove every gun from the nation and the killings will continue, perhaps with bombs, because it's not the weapons, its the insanity. The only thing gun control will do is make honest citizens less safe in their homes, prevent them from being able to protect themselves from someone like this.

    July 24, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
  21. Jack

    Insane? Naw. Cunning? Yes.

    July 24, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
  22. Joel Bradshaw

    Of course he's insane. Sane people don't do this. And if they devise a plan to kill people, and pretend they're insane, they are still insane, they just have less awareness of their own illness. Lots of mentally ill people are aware they're mentally ill...
    I'm not saying not to fry him, given the chance. We don't need this person breathing our air. If psychologists want to stick him in an institution and study him to learn more about his illness, fine. But dead like his victims would be my preference, or life without paroll. Either way, my first desire is to protect society from him, first, punish him or rehabilitate him, second.

    July 24, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
    • Lisa Marie

      Yeah, right. . .and let's bring back the people he killed!!!!!

      July 25, 2012 at 11:53 am |
  23. Michael

    The question at hand is he insane? Lets review planned for months, acquired the means to execute, and then proceeded to kill 12 people with the intent of killing more. YES HE IS INSANE!!! Why is there a debate?
    Here is another way of stating insanity: wasting time with this question and individual? They may seek the death penalty? That is insane to me. How time and money do we need to waste is there not enough proof he did this? This individual needs to be erased from existence. Com’on already!!!

    July 24, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
    • Amanda R

      This guy is gulty and there is more than a sufficient amount of evidence to prove it! It was premeditated(months of planning, purchasing, etc), Take all the money that will be wasted by having a trial, medical testing, and so on and give it to the victims of this tragedy! This guy is NOT insane. Crazy people don't know that they're crazy and he knows EXACTLY what he's doing.

      July 25, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
  24. Jo Woodard

    I can't imagine how the parents of the victims are feeling. Every time you turn on CNN, they have these psycholigists on there explaining about how the suspect could be insane and that's why he did it. I just know Holmes is having a good time watching all the talk about him. Insanity will be his excuse for being extremely evil. I just wish these news channels would quit discussing how he could be insane. He will be tested. He's smart, he knew just how to act in court so people would say "look, that guys got mental problems." Please, stop putting his picture up there, you're making him famous just like he wants.

    July 24, 2012 at 11:23 am |
  25. Max

    Hello Anderson! The Aurora killer is not a psycho, no! He knows what he is doing.. If you ask me – what he did is a part of his research which is now focused on the mindset of a mass killer...He will pretend that he is a psycho to avoid the death penalty.. and then will be left alone to write his dissertation. How about that? That is what I think ...

    July 24, 2012 at 10:12 am |
  26. Ed

    Why is no one thinking that this is an elaborate terrorist event? He is the pawn who may have had others controlling him? Whats the difference in his being brainwashed to shoot up a movie theater and a person wired with a vest brainwashed to blow up himself and a crowd of people. Your experts say the booby trapped apartment was rigged like a trap seen in Afghanistan or Iraq. Why is there not a search for a second person who was capable of doing this without being noticed?Who were his friends and mentors and what were their belief systems and influence over him? Clearly he did not act alone. The theater event required mayhem. The rigged apartment required intense accuracy of chemistry and chemicals.
    Terrorism is getting more sophisticated and complex. It the apartment was rigged like a terrorist would rig an apartment why is he not being called a terrorist and why are the police and FBI not questioning teachers, mentors and friends who may have helped or influenced him to do this horrific act. Why is he acting crazy AFTER he asked for an attorney? Why is he so silent when a crazy man would tell everything? Please do not use my name, photo or email address. I do not want anyone coming after me. I live in fear of terrorists and the world falling apart already.

    July 24, 2012 at 9:59 am |
  27. Rosie


    I found out that JH had 3 professors who were involved with his doc final passing exams, it looks like they fail him last May, he did not pass his comprehensive exams. They gave him two options 1) leave the program or 2) retake the exams in 1 month. Please be aware that no mentorship or guidance was given to JH. He was in a program that the students stay on a rotation mode; every 3-4 months they change lab and professor.

    July 24, 2012 at 2:51 am |
    • Lisa Marie

      Oh poor JH. . .no mentorship . . .it looks like he didn't need it!!!

      July 25, 2012 at 11:55 am |
  28. Judith Winters

    I suspect as horrible the Aurora theather shooting is, there maybe a more horrible layer to the story. Seems to me the Univ of Colorado Medical Neuroscience division does not want to devulge what is involved in this 6 person "exclusive class" is and...we "will find out in court". Neuroscience is the study of the nervous system and the brain. Could what they are doing have effected the shooters brain? I know, X-factor dramatics but I wonder.

    July 24, 2012 at 1:30 am |
  29. John

    You can't just buy a gun online off the internet and have it deliverd to your house. You can order a gun online but it is shipped to a FFL dealer(federal firearms licence). When your gun shows up at the dealer you go into the ffl deale then fill out the background check paperwork and if you are approved you can take your gun if you are not approved you can't take your gun. I don't like how the media is making it seem like the guns were delived directly to his house. Guns CAN'T be deliverd directly to a individuals house !!! You must fill out a background check .

    July 24, 2012 at 1:07 am |