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Colorado mass killer was psychotic when he opened fire, his lawyers say

James Holmes sits in court for an advisement hearing at the Arapahoe County Justice Center in Centennial, Colorado June 4, 2013. REUTERS/And
James Holmes sits in court for an advisement hearing at the Arapahoe County Justice Center in Centennial, Colorado June 4, 2013. REUTERS/And

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) - Accused mass killer James Holmes was in the "throes of a psychotic episode" when he shot 12 people to death and wounded dozens more in a Colorado movie theater last year, his attorneys said in court documents made public this week.

Defense lawyers have never denied that Holmes was the lone gunman who opened fire on moviegoers in the Denver suburb of Aurora last July, but the filing marked the most direct statement yet from his attorneys acknowledging he committed the massacre.

The court filing also marked the most explicit defense assertion to date of Holmes' state of mind at the time of the shooting rampage.

Holmes, 25, is charged with multiple counts of first-degree murder and attempted murder for a barrage of gunfire that left 12 dead and 58 others wounded during a midnight screening of the Batman film "The Dark Knight Rises." A dozen other suffered non-gunshot injuries in the ensuing pandemonium.

The former doctoral student of neuroscience has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, and prosecutors have said they intend to seek the death penalty if he is convicted.

Public defenders previously said Holmes suffered from an unspecified mental illness. They have also said he would be willing to plead guilty to the killings if the death penalty were taken off the table, an offer that prosecutors have so far rejected.

Their latest description of his mental state came in a defense pleading that objected to Arapahoe County District Judge Carlos Samour Jr.'s recent order requiring that Holmes be tethered to the courtroom floor during his trial, which is scheduled to begin in February 2014.

The upper end of the tether would be connected to a harness that Holmes would wear under his clothes so that the connection would not be visible to jurors.

Defense lawyers said Holmes poses neither a security threat nor a flight risk, has no prior criminal record and that the courtroom restraint prescribed by the judge was akin to "leashing a mentally ill man."

"(T)he evidence revealed thus far ... supports the defense's position that Mr. Holmes suffers from a serious mental illness and was in the throes of a psychotic episode when he committed the acts that resulted in the tragic loss of life and injuries sustained by moviegoers," the motion said.

In his reply, Samour said he would not allow a defendant charged with serious violent crimes to be unrestrained in court, adding that it was the defense lawyers who had asked that Holmes not be shackled in court.

"There is nothing inhumane, undignified, or dehumanizing about the method of restraint," Samour said.

In a separate motion, public defenders accused the judge of discussing the restraint method and other security measures with the county sheriff without conducting a hearing.

Samour said defense lawyers "disrespectfully" accused him of improper conduct.

"This accusation is a serious one, and, without any basis for it should not have been advanced," Samour wrote. "Counsel are hereby admonished for doing so."

(Editing by Steve Gorman, Bernard Orr)

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