University mentor of Colorado theater shooter describes him as intelligent, socially awkward



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FILE - This Jan. 15, 2015, file photo shows the jury box, right, inside Courtroom 201, where the trial of Aurora movie theater shooting defendant James Holmes is currently taking place at Arapahoe County District Court in Centennial, Colo. Defense attorneys have urged jurors not to let emotions sway them, but with weeks of harrowing testimony still to come, experts say James Holmes’ lawyers will have a difficult time convincing jurors to put sympathy behind them as they decide whether he was legally insane when he killed 12 people and injured 70 others in July 2012. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, Pool, File)


FILE - In this image taken from Colorado Judicial Department video, Colorado theater shooter James Holmes, left rear in light-colored shirt, watches during testimony by witness Derick Spruel, upper right, on the second day of his trial in Centennial, Colo., Monday, April 27, 2015. Standing at left is prosecutor Lisa Teesch-Maguire. Defense attorneys have urged jurors not to let emotions sway them, but with weeks of harrowing testimony still to come, experts say James Holmes’ lawyers will have a difficult time convincing jurors to put sympathy behind them as they decide whether he was legally insane when he killed 12 people and injured 70 others in July 2012. (Colorado Judicial Department via AP, Pool, File)


CENTENNIAL, Colorado — A University of Colorado professor offered a glimpse Tuesday into the character of theater shooter James Holmes while he was a student at the school, testifying that Holmes was intelligent but socially awkward and sometimes unenthusiastic.

Sukumar Vijayaraghavan (SOO'-kuh-mar Vee-jay-ar-RAH'-guh-van), the academic mentor of Holmes in the Ph.D. neuroscience program, testified at the trial of the 27-year-old man who has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to killing 12 people and injuring 70 others in the July 20, 2012, attack.

Vijayaraghavan's testimony was the first public statement from any faculty member who worked closely with Holmes at the university. School officials have said little about him, citing privacy laws and a gag order in the case.

Holmes dropped out of the university after failing a key oral exam at the end of his first year. The professors who gave Holmes the exam said he had problems grasping concepts and with reasoning, Vijayaraghavan said.

Vijayaraghavan met with Holmes four days after the exam and offered him a chance to retake it, but Holmes withdrew from the program, which surprised his mentor.

Holmes showed no emotion during the meeting, Vijayaraghavan said.

Holmes was also having trouble finding a professor who would work with him in a laboratory, a requirement of the program, Vijayaraghavan said.

One professor worried that Holmes' presence would hurt the morale of others in the lab.

"He seemed not engaged in the lab, he wasn't communicating well with the professor or other people in the lab," Vijayaraghavan said.

Another professor said Holmes didn't get as much work done in the lab as he should, Vijayaraghavan said.

Vijayaraghavan said he met with Holmes before he was admitted to the program and gave him a high recommendation.

"My overall impression was he was quiet and a little socially awkward but definitely somebody who had the caliber to be in the program," the professor said.

When District Attorney George Brauchler asked if Holmes had lived up to the expectations, Vijayaraghavan said no.

Brauchler also asked Vijayaraghavan if Holmes' demeanor had changed much during the academic year. Again the professor answered no.

The question by the prosecutor appeared to be an attempt to undermine the defense's contention that Holmes' behavior grew more erratic because of a worsening mental illness.

Prosecutors say Holmes opened fire on the crowded theater in Aurora, a Denver suburb, during a midnight premier of a Batman movie.

His attorneys have acknowledged he was the shooter but say he has schizophrenia and didn't know right from wrong.

Prosecutors maintain Holmes was sane. They're seeking the death penalty.

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