Theater shooting trial: Defense calls star witness, Dr. Raquel Gur, expert on schizophrenia

Prosecution questions doctor's qualifications

CENTENNIAL, Colo. - The defense team in the Aurora movie theater shooting trial called their star witness to the stand on Monday -- an expert on schizophrenia -- but she spent most of her time defending her credentials.

Dr. Raquel Gur is a professor of Psychiatry Neurology and Radiology at the University of Pennsylvania. She is a paid consultant for the defense. She has worked on several high-profile cases, including the cases of Ted Kaczynski, David Halpern and Jared Loughner. 

Gur is expected to help argue for the defense that James Holmes was legally insane at the time of the Aurora movie theater shooting in July 2012, but as soon as she took the stand, District Attorney George Brauchler began questioning Gur's qualifications as an expert witness.

"I am not forensically trained. And I don't wish to be," Gur stated.

Gur acknowledged that no state court has accepted her as an expert on sanity and she does not have special training on Colorado law.

"Have you ever been qualified as an expert in neurology?" Brauchler asked.

"I am not asking to be," Gur answered. "I am opining on the psychiatric diagnosis and on sanity."

"You're not a board certified psychiatrist?" Brauchler asked.

Gur acknowledged that she is not board certified in anything.

Lead Public Defender Dan King's microphone was still on at the time and it sounded like he said, "She's not going to be able to testify at all at this rate."

"Why did you decide not to get certified in forensic psychiatry?" King asked Gur.

"My choice was to go what I call the scenic route... dedicating my research to schizophrenia," she answered.

When asked how many psychotic people Gur has interviewed, she said, "Almost too many people to count... Maybe a thousand is too much, but hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of them."

Gur was an expert in the trial of Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, she testified Monday.

In 1999, Gur interviewed Russell Weston, who shot two officers on Capitol Hill.

In 2004, Gur testified in the case of David Halpern, who was given up for adoption by a mother with schizophrenia. The adoptive parents sued because his family history wasn't divulged.

In 2011-12, Gur worked on the Jared Loughner case. Loughner shot U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords and killed six others. She diagnosed him but the case did not go to trial.

-- Demonstrative evidence --

Before Gur took the stand Monday, lawyers spent more than an hour arguing whether slides from her PowerPoint presentation should be allowed in court.

King argued Gur should be allowed to reference the slides as demonstrative evidence during her testimony.

King said the slides included a diagram of a brain cell, an MRI of the gunman’s brain and a study on schizophrenia done by Gur.

Brauchler argued he was not given the presentation in a timely manner or notified about all the studies the defense planned to introduce.

"It is bewildering to me how they can show up, on a day the court is closed, after 3 o'clock, and show up Monday morning and say 'There's no harm to this. They should have seen this coming,'" Brauchler said.

"Why weren't these [exhibits] provided earlier?" Judge Carlos Samour asked the defense.

"Frankly, she just came in on a plane," King answered.

King said he did not see the final version of Gur's presentation until she flew into town on Friday.

"I sent [the exhibits] to Brauchler so he'd have three days to review them... It's just the trial process, your Honor," King said.

"I agree with Mr. Brauchler that the preferred process is to provide [the exhibit] to counsel before --  the Friday before the Monday the expert is to testify ... but I don't have a basis to exclude them."

King argued the prosecution had access to all the publications he planned to use because they were listed on Gur's resumé or curriculum vitae (CV).

"All of her publications are contained in her CV," King said.

"If it was not mentioned in the CV, I will not allow the slides," Judge Samour said.

Many of the individual slides were discussed in detail, and the judge was asked to rule on each of them individually.

"This is a diagram of a brain cell... this is a case about a brain disease. This is what she does," King said in one instance.

"If this [information about schizophrenia] was common knowledge, how could this not have been provided to us ahead of time?" Brauchler asked.

"This is the shift-on-the-fly, last-second stuff that has come to characterize the presentation of the case by the defense," Brauchler said.

"It sounds like the opinions were disclosed, but the bases for those opinions were not disclosed," said Judge Samour.

The judge agreed to allow the majority of the slides as demonstrative evidence.

Gur is expected to return to the stand Tuesday.

TIMELINE of the case:

Print this article Back to Top