Thoughts on James Holmes

A psychiatrist who interviewed James Holmes has testified that Holmes was mentally ill at the time of the shooting, but legally sane by Colorado law as he was able to tell right from wrong. I have three reasons for wanting Holmes found not guilty by reason of insanity,

First: I am philosophically apposed to the death penalty under any circumstance for very many reasons.

Second: I object to legal definitions of insanity that hinge on ones ability to tell right from wrong, acting on an irresistible impulse or anything other than the question of would this criminal act have occurred without the existence of a brain disease. In this case that is not clear but that’s not the question being asked. The psychiatrist testified that Holmes was mentally ill. The logical follow up question to me would be was it this illness that led to the crimes.

Third: I object to people being punished for getting sick. This may be what is happening here. It wouldn’t be without precedent. We have had leper colonies and quarantine in cases of serious contagious diseases. It could sometimes be argued to be a practical necessity so that the society as a whole or the many must be protected. I would object to going so far as imprisonment in actual prisons or execution.

All this leads me to further thought. While I want Mr. Holmes to end up in a mental hospital being treated, I have severe misgivings about him ever walking free again under any circumstances in ten years, twenty years or thirty or more years.

I have no qualms about John Hinckley walking free. I am both a survivor of a serous mental illness and an advocate for all families dealing with serious mental illnesses, but James Holmes is a different kind of animal. Those of us with histories like mine tend to feel kinship and sympathy for anyone with any type of brain disease, but some distinctions need to be made. Most of us are completely incapable of such an act.

John Hinckley was clearly acting due to a psychotic fantasy when he attempted to assassinate President Reagan and has clearly responded well to treatment. He can reasonably be considered no threat to anyone or to go off his meds. Mark David Chapman who shot John Lennon could probably be effectively treated and safely allowed to go free one day. When the disease caused the crime and the disease has been effectively treated, this is only just in my opinion.

James Holmes strikes me as different. I am in no way qualified to diagnose the mental health of anyone, but have personal experience with mental illness. When Holmes couldn’t keep from nodding off at his hearing, I could relate. When one of my psychotic episodes passed some sort of climax, I would relax and struggle to stay awake due to having had very little sleep for a very long time. So I believed he had probably been psychotic. But that was the only similarity.

From the first I wondered at his ability to plan and prepare over an extended period of time, knowing that I could never have done that when sick. Then there is his discussion in his journal of his long standing obsession with killing and murder. He talked some to the interviewing psychiatrist about hoping someone would stop him from what he planned. He talked of gaining stature from each of his murdered victims.

When sick I committed some criminal acts, but always believed I was on the side of mankind and trying to save the world, not build myself up by destroying others.

I guess my concerns center around questions like, did the disease cause the crime? Is the disease something that can be effectively treated?

This is a case of great interest to me for many reasons. I hope to get answers to many of my questions as testimony continues to unfold.

In many cases where mental illness is involved, timely treatment could have avoided tragedy. In this case, I just don’t know. It wouldn’t have hurt.

Like most trails where insanity has been pleaded, prosecution experts will testify that the accused was legally sane, defense experts will testify that he was not and a jury of laymen with typically little or no knowledge, training or experience with brain disease will by charged to decide. I pity the twelve.

2 thoughts on “Thoughts on James Holmes

  1. Clearly that would depend on the sentence rendered when he was found guilty of attempted murder. But you are comparing apples to oranges. Hinckley, and by all accounts rightfully so, was never found guilty of any crime. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity. I have written extensively about the insanity defense both in my first blog and in my book. I always acknowledge that society has a right and an obligation to incarcerate people who are a known threat to it’s members, but sick people belong in hospitals not prisons. When a sick person has been effectively treated for his disease, he is no longer a known threat. Now society no longer has a need, excuse, or moral right to keep him incarcerated.


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