The Denver Post
Prosecutors accuse psychiatrist of bias in James Holmes evaluation
By John Ingold
December 26, 2013

Our Criminal Justice System 9-2013Prosecutors have accused the psychiatrist who performed a crucial mental-health exam on the Aurora movie theater gunman of having “an unfair bias” that influenced his findings, according to a judge’s order issued this month.

Dr. Jeffrey Metzner, a University of Colorado psychiatrist with an expertise in the mental health of prison inmates, was the man picked to perform the most closely watched psychiatric exam in state history. Metzner’s job was to determine whether James Holmes was sane when he killed 12 people and wounded dozens more in the Century Aurora 16 theater.

The results of Metzner’s exam, which was court-ordered, have not been released other than that Metzner found Holmes mentally competent enough currently to stand trial. Prosecutors are challenging Metzner’s two other conclusions, one related to Holmes’ sanity at the time of the shooting and one related to whether Holmes is mentally fit enough to be eligible for the death penalty.

Little has been released about the prosecutors’ challenge — and the hearings that will decide whether prosecution experts will be allowed to conduct their own exam on Holmes have been closed to the public.

But, in an order issued last week, Arapahoe County District Court Judge Carlos Samour revealed that prosecutors “contend that at least one aspect of the … examination is unfair because Dr. Metzner had ‘an unfair bias.’ ” Prosecutors also argue that Metzner’s evaluation contained “numerous deficiencies,” according to Samour’s order.

Samour’s order does not reveal what the alleged bias is or in what ways prosecutors contend the evaluation was deficient. Defense attorneys have argued that Metzner’s conclusions are solid, according to Samour’s order.

Reached Monday, Metzner said he is bound by the gag order in the case and cannot comment.

As Samour’s order makes clear, the closed hearings — set for the last week of January — will feature a litany of testimony from psychiatrists who have evaluated Holmes or closely studied the case.

Metzner, who is the associate director of the Forensic Fellowship Program at CU’s School of Medicine, has previously written about how psychiatrists can best use the Internet when conducting criminal mental-health evaluations — and how information on the Internet can be used to impeach the evaluator. But much of Metzner’s work has focused on the mental health of prison inmates and especially on the effects of solitary confinement.

During January’s hearings, defense attorneys plan to call Metzner and their own expert, Chicago-based psychologist Robert Hanlon, according to Samour’s order. Hanlon has previously written a book about his experiences treating a convicted murderer who had once been sentenced to die.

Prosecutors plan to call two experts during January’s hearings: Kris Mohandie, a California-based psychologist who has consulted with the FBI, various police departments and the television show “Paradise Hotel,” and Dr. Phillip Resnick, an Ohio-based psychiatrist who has consulted on such high-profile cases as those against Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski, Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and killer Jeffrey Dahmer.

Samour has three options at the hearings: He can deny the prosecution’s request for a new evaluation, he can allow Mohandie and Resnick to examine Holmes in person or he can order a new exam to be performed by another independent doctor. Dr. Steven Pitt, a nationally known forensic psychiatrist based in Arizona, said the third option is most likely and would be in keeping with what judges in previous cases have done.

“It would not surprise me at all if the judge followed suit and appointed his own independent expert,” Pitt said.