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James Holmes Trial: Aurora 'Shooter' Called Psychiatrist Lynne Fenton 9 Minutes Before Attack

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Prosecution couldn't disprove a doctor-patient relationship between theater shooting suspect James Holmes and a University of Colorado psychiatrist, which caused a setback in their effort to obtain a notebook which belonged to Holmes.
Prosecution couldn't disprove a doctor-patient relationship between theater shooting suspect James Holmes and a University of Colorado psychiatrist, which caused a setback in their effort to obtain a notebook which belonged to Holmes.

CENTENNIAL, Colo. — The University of Colorado Hospital said Friday that no one at its switchboard talked to the movie theater shooting suspect in the minutes before the attack, but a caller did hang up without saying anything around that time.

One of James Holmes' lawyers said at a court hearing Thursday that Holmes reached out to psychiatrist Lynne Fenton that night by calling the hospital switchboard, which can reach doctors after business hours.

Attorney Tamara Brady said Holmes made the call nine minutes before he is accused of opening fire at a Batman movie premiere, killing 12 people and injuring 58. Brady provided no evidence at the hearing to support that claim, and she did not immediately return a message Friday.

Hospital marketing director Brad Fixler said the switchboard did receive a seven-second call at 12:31 a.m. on July 20, about eight minutes before 911 dispatchers began receiving calls about the shooting. But he said the caller hung up without saying anything.

"We did not receive any calls asking specifically for Dr. Fenton nor any other psychiatrist at our hospital," Fixler said.

The Denver Post first reported the story.

Fixler said calls to the hospital switchboard are recorded for patient safety, and officials there examined those recordings to find out if Holmes called. Other calls received around that time were unrelated to the Holmes case, he said.

Fixler did not immediately know if the recording of the seven-second call was given to police. He said the switchboard also records phone numbers but that he didn't know if the number was associated with Holmes. He referred further questions to the Aurora Police Department, which did not immediately return phone messages.

Brady made the assertion about the phone call in court as she sought to establish that a doctor-patient relationship existed between Holmes and Fenton right up to the shooting. Chief Deputy District Attorney Karen Pearson suggested that Holmes also could have called Fenton directly at her office but apparently did not.

Prosecutors suffered a setback at the hearing in their attempts to obtain a notebook Holmes sent to Fenton that reportedly contains violent descriptions of an attack. Judge William B. Sylvester ruled that prosecutors could not disprove that a doctor-patient relationship existed between Holmes and Fenton.

Now the question is whether Holmes, 24, sent the notebook to Fenton for use in his treatment. Prosecutors argued the notebook wasn't meant to be used for therapy purposes because Holmes wasn't planning to be around.

"He intended to be dead or in prison after this shooting," Pearson said in court. Pearson didn't explain why she believed Holmes would be dead, but she pointed to a dating site where Holmes asked, "Will you visit me in prison?"

Deputy District Attorney Rich Orman said prosecutors were prepared to present testimony that Holmes posted the comments on AdultFriendFinder.com. and Match.com.

Neither Pearson nor Orman specified how the comments were made. But in the days following the shooting, bloggers posted profiles reportedly found on those sites showing the same prison comment accompanied by a picture of a man with orange hair that resembled Holmes.

Neither company that operates those websites immediately returned calls seeking comment.

Craig Silverman, a trial attorney and former Denver prosecutor, said the online comments show Holmes "knew he was going to be punished and it speaks to his state of mind."

Brady objected to Pearson's argument, saying she was making "many gigantic leaps." Brady said a doctor-patient relationship existed even though Fenton hadn't seen Holmes since June 11.

She said prisoners can still be seen by psychiatrists, and a possible reason for Holmes sending the notebook to Fenton was, "I'm feeling bad. Please stop me. Do something. Help me."

Sylvester will take up the matter again at a scheduled hearing Sept. 20.

"We've got to be extremely cautious about violating privilege," Sylvester said. "If we do, it would be problematic for anything we're trying to do."

Fenton was the prime witness at the hearing where prosecutors sought to gain access to the notebook needed as part of their case.

She testified that she believed she had no doctor-patient relationship with Holmes by July 19, the day prosecutors say he mailed the notebook. Fenton also said she contacted a campus police officer after her last meeting with Holmes.

"I communicated with (the officer) to gather more information on this case and also communicate my concerns," Fenton said.

Sylvester, prompted by Brady's objections, barred questions about what those concerns were.

Fenton said she never saw the package. She learned about it from a defense team investigator two days after the shooting, and she contacted her attorneys. The package was discovered in a university mailroom July 23.

University spokeswoman Erika Matich said the school would have no comment on Fenton's testimony, including any details about her contact with campus police. A university spokeswoman said last week that a criminal background check was done on Holmes before the attack, but released no details.

Defense attorneys say Holmes is mentally ill. Prosecutors suggest he was angry at a failing academic career and efforts to withdraw from a doctoral program at CU.

Thursday's 3 1/2-hour hearing was the longest yet that Holmes has attended. He appeared to pay close attention to the proceedings and smiled at least once as he leaned toward his attorney. Holmes had a light moustache but was otherwise clean-shaven, and his hair was blond and orange.

Meanwhile, the University of Iowa released records showing it rejected Holmes from a graduate neuroscience program last year after he visited campus for an interview and left the program director bluntly warning colleagues: "Do NOT offer admission under any circumstances."

The documents didn't explain why his application was denied. University spokesman Tom Moore said Holmes was academically qualified but officials did not see him as a "good personal fit for our program." He declined to elaborate.

Holmes later enrolled as a first-year Ph.D. student in a neuroscience program at the University of Colorado Denver. He withdrew June 10.

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Associated Press writers Colleen Slevin in Denver and Ryan Foley in Iowa City, Iowa, contributed to this report.

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