James Holmes trial: His parents, changing hair color, medication

Updated 8:51 PM EDT, Tue May 26, 2015

Story highlights

James Holmes' parents, Robert and Arlene, show no emotion in courtroom

'It was kind of wild,' landlady says of seeing Holmes with orange-red hair

Holmes applied for unemployment benefits just before mass shooting

(CNN) —  

The couple sits quietly, staring straight ahead. Their faces are solemn but blank. They talk to nobody and seem careful not to show emotion even while families on the other side of the courtroom sob and wipe away tears.

Robert and Arlene Holmes are the parents of accused movie theater shooter James Holmes.

Ever since their son allegedly committed one of the worst U.S. mass shootings, the parents haven’t spoken publicly, other than writing two open letters to the public. Arelene Holmes also published a prayer book back in March, detailing her family’s internal struggle and pleading for her son’s life.

“Severely mentally ill people need treatment, not execution,” she wrote.

She penned about how she “lost it” and beat her hands on the kitchen counter: “What were you thinking, Jim? And what are you thinking now? Praying for Jim in jail; please don’t commit suicide,” she wrote.

Yet, in the courtroom, the couple expose none of the anguish so passionately revealed in the book, the proceeds of which will be donated to medical and health services, the mother wrote.

1. Hundreds of bullet holes in theater 9

Here are five things we learned this past week in the ongoing capital murder trial of James Holmes, 27, a former neuroscience Ph.D. student at the University of Colorado, who police say on July 20, 2012, walked into a crowded movie theater and opened fire, killing 12 people and injuring 70 others. He has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

Photographs of red and green crisscrossing laser beams exposed hundreds of bullet trajectories inside Theater 9 of the Century Aurora 16 Multiplex Theater, in Aurora, Colorado.

Special Agent Brett Mills, an FBI forensic examiner in firearms and tool marks, testified that investigators found a total of 235 bullet holes and impacts in the theater where all 12 people were killed and the majority of other injuries occurred.

More than a dozen bullets passed right through the wall into theater 8, where investigators discovered another 16 bullet holes and impacts.

Mills testified the complexity of the shooting scene required a multi-tool approach to accurately capture what happened. Investigators ran rods through bullet holes, measured angles by hand and with surveying equipment. They also used a laser machine to create a 3-D point cloud.

“More measurements you have, the greater the accuracy will be,” Mills testified.

He concluded that most shots came from the right side of the theater, if facing the screen. That small detail was a big one to back up eyewitness accounts.

2. Witness recalls door suddenly open

Kimber Avra was sitting in the middle of the second row of theater 9 when she remembers just 15 to 20 minutes into the midnight showing of the movie “The Dark Knight Rises” she heard a bang near the lower right side of the theater.

“I thought somebody kicked or slammed the door open,” Avra testified. “I looked over there and there was someone there and they were completely covered in black.”

She recalled black boots, black helmet and a gas mask. “It almost looked like a costume.”

Avra saw something in his hand, he pulled a tab and threw it behind her, she testified. At first, she thought it was a prank, until she heard the hissing from what turned out to be tear gas. Then the gunshots began.

“I was like a deer in the headlights. I froze. I wasn’t able to process what was going on. So I sat there and stared at it (the shooter),” she said. Avra estimated he was just 20 feet away when a friend pulled her to the ground.

Kevin Quinonez recalled dialing 911 as he crouched behind the seats on top of his girlfriend, trying to protect her.

Prosecutors played his chilling 911 call in court:

Operator: “What is your emergency?”

Sounds of loud gunfire.

Operator: “I can’t hear you.”

More loud gunshots.

Operator: “I can’t hear you. What’s your address?”


Call ends. Dial tone.

Quinonez and his girlfriend were among the lucky ones who survived.

3. Prescription medicine in Holmes’ apartment

While Holmes’ defense team has not cross-examined any of the survivors who have taken the witness stand, they did question an Aurora police detective who searched Holmes’ apartment.

Detective Thomas Wilson collected several items from the apartment on Paris Street on the day after the shooting.

Wilson seized receipts, a wall hanging, a vehicle title and a backpack, among other evidence – mostly mundane, everyday items that most college students would have hanging around.

However, there were a couple of items the defense chose to point out, some medications collected from a medicine cabinet in Holmes’ bathroom. They included sertraline and clonazepam, both apparently prescribed by an L. Fenton, according to the prescription labels.

“And you recognize that L. Fenton to be the psychiatrist at CU,” defense lawyer Katherine Spengler questioned, emphasizing that Holmes had sought mental health help while he was a grad student at the University of Colorado.

“Yes, ma’am,” Wilson responded.

Sertraline is typically used for depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic attacks and social anxiety disorder, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Clonazepam may be used to treat seizures, panic disorders and anxiety.

It’s unknown exactly why Holmes’ had been prescribed these medications. In opening statements, the defense asserted that Holmes lives with schizophrenia.

Dr. Lynne Fenton is expected to testify at some point.

4. Holmes changes his hair color to orange/red

Holmes’ rented that apartment for about 14 months, from May 2011 until the shooting in July 2012.

Joan Leslie Holley owns the apartment building and testified that Holmes specifically requested a top-floor apartment. In his application, she said Holmes described himself as “quiet” and “easygoing.”

She never had any problems with Holmes and said he always paid his rent on time, sometimes early.

Maryalice Arre would collect the rent checks monthly, in person.

“He was polite, had a soft demeanor,” she testified, even when he came in on June 29, 2012, with his appearance changed.

“I remember him walking in and having changed his hair color…. It was an orangey-red and not as neat. It was kind of wild,” Arre recalled. “I said, ‘James, you changed your hair color!’ He just said, ‘Oh yeah.’ He didn’t make a big deal about it.”

“Other than the change in hair color did you detect anything different in this guy?” District Attorney George Brauchler asked.

“No,” Arre responded.

5. Holmes applied for unemployment

By the time Holmes paid that last month’s rent, he had already dropped out of grad school and applied for unemployment benefits.

Lead FBI investigator Jeremy Phelps testified that Holmes filled out an application for benefits on June 14, 2012.

Phelps said Holmes wrote on the application that he had been making $2,166.67 a month, working 40 hours a week as a graduate student at the University of Colorado.

He said he “quit” his work at the university just the day before, according to the application.

Reason given: “pursuing other interests and lack of passion for research topics,” Holmes wrote on the application, according to Phelps.

He said Holmes wrote that the duties were “too social” and that he “attempted to change demeanor” but was unable to change his shy personality.

What did Holmes do to help his situation?

“Sought counseling from student mental health center,” Phelps read from Holmes’ application.

As court wrapped up for the week, prosecutor Brauchler signaled to the court that Holmes’ mental health would be a focus of testimony in the weeks ahead.