CENTENNIAL, Colo. — A former girlfriend of Colorado theater shooter James Holmes testified Wednesday in his death penalty trial that they went to a horror film festival on their first date and she broke things off a few months later because he wanted more than a casual relationship.
In brief questioning before court adjourned, Gargi Datta said she met Holmes in 2011 at the graduate school they attended outside Denver. She described him as a bright but shy neuroscience graduate student at the time.
“He wouldn’t go up and interact with people,” Datta said, adding that Holmes was more talkative when he was alone with her.
They started spending time together after she invited him to a study session. Holmes emailed his phone number to her and said that if she texted him, “I will tell you an amazingly, best-ever world’s greatest knock-knock joke.”
Their relationship blossomed, and Datta said they were spending one or two nights a week together in the months before the shooting in July 2012.
When they weren’t together, they swapped messages over their cellphones, some of which prosecutors are expected to show when Datta returns to the witness stand Thursday.
Datta’s testimony was her first public comments since the shooting. Prosecutors have said their break-up in February 2012 was a catalyst to the shooting five months later. She was Holmes’ first romantic relationship, District Attorney George Brauchler said, but she told Holmes that she didn’t see a future for them.
While they were dating, prosecutors say, Holmes sent her messages saying he wanted to kill people, but she didn’t take him seriously and suggested he get therapy. Holmes never revealed to her that he was amassing an arsenal of weapons and body armor in meticulous preparation for the attack, prosecutor said.
Holmes has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity in the shooting that killed 12 people and injured 70. Prosecutors contend Holmes was sane and are seeking the death penalty.
In court, Datta never looked directly at Holmes and repeatedly referred to him as “the defendant” rather than his name. Holmes swayed in his chair as she spoke but had no other visible reaction.
In a video played earlier in the trial, Holmes said he fell in love with Datta. He had written about her in emails to his parents, saying he had cooked dinner for her on Valentine’s Day. The two played board games together with friends, watched movies at home, shared dinners and were in the same stressful classes, Datta said.
But Datta said she wanted to end the relationship in January 2012 when she returned from winter break.
“I had already told him in the start that it was a casual relationship,” she testified. “I didn’t feel I was getting closer to him. I think he liked me more than I liked him.”
In a preview to Thursday’s testimony, she also told Brauchler that Holmes never mentioned getting mononucleosis during the time they were dating. In the earlier video, Holmes told a state-appointed psychiatrist that he contracted mononucleosis in late 2011 and became depressed and lacked energy because of his subsequent breakup with his girlfriend.
“My mind was kind of falling apart,” Holmes told Dr. William Reid in the interview at a state mental hospital two years after the attack. “I don’t know what else to say.”
Holmes did say he associated depression with suicidal thoughts and added: “I kind of transferred my suicidal thoughts into homicidal.”
Datta’s testimony came a day after the judge dismissed three jurors who had been exposed to news reports about the case.
A total of 21 jurors and alternates remain, with the trial more than halfway done.
SADIE GURMAN, Associated Press