Parents Unaware Colo. Theater Gunman Had Psychiatrist - NBC New York
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Parents Unaware Colo. Theater Gunman Had Psychiatrist

Robert and Arlene Holmes have attended every day of their son's 12-week trial, but the couple had not spoken publicly since prosecutors denied their request for a pretrial plea deal

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    Parents Unaware Movie Gunman Was Seeing Psychiatrist

    James Holmes' mother took the stand in the penalty phase of the trial Wednesday. Arlene Holmes broke down when asked if her son's psychiatrist shared that James had expressed thoughts of homicide. NBC 7's Matt Rascon reports. (Published Wednesday, July 29, 2015)

    The mother of Colorado theater gunman James Holmes said Wednesday that she never knew her son had a serious mental illness or homicidal thoughts.

    Arlene Holmes broke down when asked if her son's campus psychiatrist shared that James had expressed thoughts of homicide in the weeks leading up to the July 2012 massacre inside a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado.

    "I would have been crawling on all fours to get to him. He's never said that he wanted to kill people," she said. "She didn't tell me. She didn't tell me. She didn't tell me."

    Jurors found James Holmes to be legally sane and eligible for the death penalty for killing 12 people and injuring 70 others in the shooting at a midnight movie.

    His defense has called his parents and other witnesses in an attempt to show mental illness reduced his moral culpability, so much so that capital punishment would not do justice.

    The defendant's father, Robert, just wrapped up his testimony in which he explained how the family  received a call from their son's psychiatrist about a month before the shooting. She told them James Holmes was dropping out of his prestigious neuroscience graduate school program.

    "We didn't know he was seeing a psychiatrist," the father said Tuesday.

    Robert and Arlene Holmes of Rancho Penasquitos, Calif. have attended every day of their son's trial, but the couple had not spoken publicly since prosecutors denied their request for a pretrial plea deal to spare his life.

    "Schizophrenia chose him he didn't choose it," Arlene Holmes testified.

    The family became increasingly concerned about "Jimmy" as they refer to him when he stopped returning their phone calls. 

    Robert Holmes said when he and his wife visited their son after his arrest, he "was clearly messed up" -- his eyes bulging and his pupils dilated.

    "He told us he loved us, but I could see there was something really wrong with him," Robert Holmes said.

    Robert Holmes also recalled that during a visit with his son about seven months before the attack, he noticed James Holmes had an "odd facial expression," which he would be reminded of later when he saw his son's mug shot after his arrest.

    He said he noticed his son smiling and grimacing in December 2011. Immediately after the testimony, the defense showed the now-familiar mug shot of James Holmes smirking at the camera.

    After the shooting, Arlene Holmes said she was shocked to learn her son had planned such a violent act.

    “I was totally shocked that he used a gun. We never had guns in the house. We never were hunters or target shooters,” Arlene Holmes said. “When I heard, I thought ‘How does he even know how to use a gun?’”

    Under questioning by prosecutor George Brauchler, Robert Holmes acknowledged his son didn't share much information with his family about his life in Colorado. He also acknowledged James Holmes had a "distant" relationship with his sister, Chris Holmes, who testified on James Holmes' behalf Monday.

    Robert Holmes said he has seen James Holmes in jail only three times because his son typically does not allow visitors.

    He said his son was an "excellent kid," and he still loves him.

    While Robert Holmes occasionally glanced at his son during his testimony, the two did not acknowledge each other until near the end of the day. Robert Holmes mouthed something at this son, who waved slightly at him. They both smiled.

    The family has lived in Rancho Penasquitos since James was a child. James attended Westview High School where he competed in soccer. He then decided to study neuroscience at University of Colorado.

    Defense attorneys have argued James selected that major in order to fix his own mental illness.

    Death sentences must be unanimous, and the judge has explained to jurors that their decision will be highly personal.

    The defense has a twofold task during this phase of Holmes' sentencing: They must persuade at least one juror that Holmes was deeply mentally ill, even if legally sane; and they must show he deserves mercy.