Holmes rejected from U. of Iowa: "Do NOT offer admission"

James Holmes, the suspected gunman in the Colorado movie theater massacre, sits with his attorney at a hearing on July 23, 2012.
RJ Sangosti,AP Photo/Denver Post

(AP) IOWA CITY, Iowa - The University of Iowa rejected the suspect in the Colorado movie theater shooting rampage 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."

James Holmes applied to the Iowa program in late 2010 and was given an interview on Jan. 28, 2011, according to records released by the university. Holmes wrote in his application that he was passionate about neuroscience and would bring "my strong moral upbringing" to the program. He painted himself as a bright student interested in improving himself and helping the world with a career in scientific research.

But two days after Holmes' interview, neuroscience program director Daniel Tranel wrote a strongly worded email urging the admissions committee not to accept him to the school.

"James Holmes: Do NOT offer admission under any circumstances," wrote Tranel, a professor of neurology.

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Psychology professor Mark Blumberg followed up with a separate email two days later to say he agreed with Tranel about Holmes, one of three students Blumberg interviewed. "Don't admit," he wrote about Holmes. He recommended admission for the other two.

Neither official elaborated on their reasoning in the emails, which are among 12 pages of records the university released about Holmes in response to public records requests filed by The Associated Press and other news outlets.

None of the documents further explain why Holmes' application was denied. University spokesman Tom Moore said Thursday that Holmes was academically qualified but officials did not see him as "a good personal fit for our program." He declined to elaborate.

Blumberg said in an email Thursday that he has no specific recollection of Holmes or his opinion, noting officials interview many applicants each year. Tranel was not granting interview requests Thursday, a spokesman said.

Holmes later enrolled as a first-year Ph.D. student in a neuroscience program at the University of Colorado Denver. He withdrew about six weeks before the attack in Aurora, where prosecutors say the 24-year-old opened fire during a midnight showing of the latest Batman movie, "The Dark Knight Rises," killing 12 people and injuring 58 others.

A court hearing Thursday in Denver examined Holmes' relationship with University of Colorado psychiatrist Lynne Fenton, to whom he mailed a package containing a notebook that reportedly contains violent descriptions of an attack.

Prosecutors believe the notebook contains descriptions of a violent attack. They are asking a judge to allow them review it as part of their investigation.

Defense attorneys say the journal is inadmissible because it's protected by doctor-patient privacy laws.

Fenton testified Thursday that she met with Holmes only once, on June 11, and that she believed her doctor-patient relationship with him was limited to that meeting.

When asked by Chief Deputy District Attorney Karen Pearson whether she had a doctor-patient relationship with Holmes around the time of the shooting, Fenton said, "I believe I did not."

Defense attorneys presented to the judge a report that Fenton filled out after seeing Holmes on June 11 called a client summary. They argued the report was enough to establish an ongoing doctor-patient relationship between the two.

Defense attorney Tamara Brady argued that in order to prove the relationship existed, she would have to talk about private communications between Holmes and Fenton. She asked the judge to close the rest of the hearing.

Judge William B. Sylvester called a recess to consider the request.

The email from the University of Iowa neuroscience program director indicates Holmes was one of seven applicants who visited the Iowa City campus on the same weekend last year. Tranel recommended four others be offered admission and was undecided about two, describing all as stellar or solid. Holmes was the only one he recommended denying.

The rejection stands in contrast to Holmes' previously released application to a similar program at the University of Illinois, where he was offered admission with free tuition and $22,000 per year but declined to enroll.

Holmes said on his Iowa application that he also was applying to Texas A&M, Kansas, Michigan, Alabama and Colorado. He wrote that he had a thirst for knowledge and wanted to study the "science of learning, cognition and memory."