James Holmes, the alleged shooter who killed 12 and wounded dozens more in a shooting at an Aurora movie theater, made his first appearance in court Monday. And as first impressions go, it might not have been what was expected.
From beneath his shock of orange hair, a sleepy, unshaven, eye-rolling Holmes pulled off a range of expressions which ranged from nervous to tired to twitchy to blank to drugged to outright disinterested. For the watching world, it was a curious first look at a man who could yet face the death penalty if found guilty of the shootings.
At this stage in such horrible sagas, it’s common for tabloids to contact the ‘body language experts’ they keep on speed-dial, to see what they made of the various twitches, blinks, and shuffles performed by the accused. True to form, the Daily Mail was quickly on the phone to Dr Joan Neff, a University of Virginia criminologist, who said she saw clear signs of mental illness in Holmes’ behavior, speculating this may have been why he abruptly dropped out of his PhD:
“We know that certain types of psychoses tend to have an onset in the early 20s; if that’s the case he may be in the midst of coping with that. He may not know what’s going on.”
Neff also argued that the experience of being jailed and kept in solitary confinement could have taken its toll on Holmes, especially for someone who had no previous experience of being on the wrong side of the law:
“Sometimes that can be an experience in and of itself. So his appearance is not very surprising.”
Meanwhile, CNN legal analyst Paul Callan had a simpler explanation (and the one most of us would have plumped for): Holmes was just plain knackered, and struggling to stay awake after a painful lack of sleep.
“I think you’re looking at a very tired individual combined with what his normal personality might be.”
Likewise, over at ET Online psychologist Dr. Lillian Glass discussed how Holmes looked in serious need of a hammock, but also identified a man who was on the emotional brink:
“One of the things that was very telling in terms of him getting a reality check was when he would frown. He looked like he was going to cry in several instances. There was a crinkling of the forehead, the lower lips were down, and it looked like he was going to tear up.”
Glass also noted Holmes’ apparently intentional lack of direct eye contact, something she deemed as suspicious and “telling.”
Finally, there was body language expert Janine Driver, who told Extra she saw pride in the 24-year-old’s courtroom demeanor:
“He certainly looks like he’s either medicated… or maybe he’s just exhausted. [...] What [his wild eye movements] mean [are], first, he’s proud of what he’s done and then he’s fearful of the consequences, most likely.”
There’s some footage of James Holmes’ first day in court below; how did you interpret the accused’s zombified body language?