James Holmes Courtroom Body Language and PhD Program Pressures

I recently appeared on Entertainment Tonight where I discussed the body language of the Colorado Shooter James Holmes. For those of you who may think he may have been faking his strange  and contorted facial expressions, the answer is “no” . The reason I say this is because his behaviors were too consistent.



 He struggled to keep his eyes open an to pay attention to what was going on, but he could not do so. He was either medicated or sleep deprived.

While it is not common to medicate someone during a court proceeding such as this because the person needs all of their faculties present to comprehend what is going on around them, it is not unheard of to medicate someone who is a danger to themselves and to others. If someone has been on medication, they will often let the person continue taking their prescribed meds. It was reported that Holmes was acting violent in his jail cell as he allegedly spit at guards. Perhaps he was medicated to avoid this  type of behavior  in the courtroom.

His actions could also be a sort of withdrawal reaction from alleged medications he may have been taking as well.

While he opened his eyes widely and often  quickly nodded out. It showed that he was clearly struggling to stay awake.

There were times where he had an obvious  reality check as his facial expressions leaked out fear ,  with the whites of his eyes showing all around. He also leaked  out sadness. His sadness was depicted by his furrowed forehead, knitted brow, and his frowning down tuned mouth.

There were times where he appeared to stare into space while there were other times he stared downwards. His nodding out may have also been a coping mechanism to deal with the reality of his actions in not being able to face them.

My thoughts are that he may have very well had a psychotic episode which caused his horrific “lone wolf terrorist behavior.” Oftentimes such psychotic breaks  can occur in a person’s 20’s.



It has been reported that James Holmes, who was adopted by his parents  was a very shy child. It is also reported that his mother had some concern that he was an isolated child and didn’t have a lot of friends.

James managed to occupy his time with video games according to reports and with academics.



He excelled in science and wanted to become a neuroscientist. He even worked at the prestigious Salk Institute.

There is videotape of an 18 year old fresh faced dark haired young man discussing his future plans as a scientist. He was able to live out his dream by being accepted into the PhD Program at the University of Colorado in neuroscience.


 Apparently, he took his first year oral exams and then abruptly dropped out. While the University isn’t revealing much due to student privacy issues, it has been suggested in the media that he di not pass his exams and or the program was going to terminate him so he quit instead.

Having received a PhD myself I can assure you that it is one of the most difficult things one can do. Besides the actual academic pressures and research requirements, and  grueling oral and  lengthy written examinations, there is  often the departmental politics to contend with. Most students aren’t prepared for this, but it does exist.

While his PhD student status is pure speculation on my part at this point, it may be possible that James was able to cut through the program academically,  but he may have fallen victim to  departmental politics. Maybe professors noticed his odd behavior and reacted negatively and gave him a hard time. Maybe they just didn’t like him for whatever reason and looked for reasons out get him out of the program.

Whatever the case, James Holmes saw his lifelong dream of becoming a scientist some to an end. His entire identity was caught up in this now shattered  dream, so he  may have felt he had nothing to live for.

No doubt anger brewed inside of him as he lost his academic standing and his hopes for a promising career. His anger must have escalated when he found out that he would now have to vacate his apartment because the management did not rent to those who were not U of Colorado students.

Being an alleged isolate, James apparently did not have anyone with whom to vent his frustrations and anxieties. He obviously felt he had nothing to live for as his world was closing in on him, so he retreated into his Batman like fantasies of  acting out his rage at his plight  though the persona of The Joker. Allegedly , after he was apprehended, he told police that he was The Joker.

He knew what he was going to do and set up an elaborate death trap in his apartment which would kill anyone who entered it- law enforcement or the apartment manager or  the owner who was forcing him to vacate his dwelling.

After seeing the film the Dark Knight, it is clear where his ideas about the use of gas and gunning down innocent people came from.  There is a chilling  scene in the film where innocent people are shot at the Stock Exchange. It was reminiscent of what James Holmes did at the Colorado theatre.



 James Holmes  will undergo a battery of  psychiatric evaluations to see if he is competent to stand trial. If not, he will most likely be spending a good portion of  his life  in a mental institution like John Hinkley or Mark David Chapman. If he is not found guilty by reason of insanity, then he will be spending the rest of his life in a prison cell or on death row.

No matter what happens, the horror of this story is that innocent lives of young people  were taken for absolutely no reason at all.


 It is impressive that Warner Brothers said they will be donating a substantial amount to victims of the shooting and to their families. But even though this is the right thing to do, it still can never bring back these promising lives due to Holme’s horrific actions. Those who survived will also have to deal with a lifetime of post traumatic stress and all of it’s complex related symptoms and  complications.


13 thoughts on “James Holmes Courtroom Body Language and PhD Program Pressures

  1. I agree with the assessment. My husband works with PhD students in a microbiology lab at one of the best schools in the country, and some of the students have been terrifying. Part of it is pressure, part of it is that their brain seems to
    work differently; while they excel in their field, they lack social skills & their behavior can be erratic, bizzare & threatening. In the last year three students have been put on “suspension” – usually meaning they will get kicked out at the end of the term – for threatening fellow students in a severe manner, e.g. sending an email with details in how they will come into the lab and shoot them repeatedly because they took space in a fridge that was theirs. Two are currently in a mental institution hopefully receiving treatment. While most of the students are wonderful, it’s a harsh reality that there are people like James that could snap any minute. At least this school does do a lot to prevent injury to the individual $ others…inside or outside the school.


  2. In grad school, I was 1 of 4 women total & the only single, divorced parent. I shared my major adviser w/2 men, & I’d buy equipment & set up my lab experiments, & at the times I’d do research overnight (while my beloved babysitter slept over & watched my kids), I’d walk in the next day to find my setup dissembled, pieces of my eqpt missing, & I’d have to run all over the building trying to find out who took my stuff & where it was & get angrily confronted by my 2 colleagues while recovering my stuff ! Rinse, repeat. The advisor would often be out of town, out in the field, visiting companies, etc, & not available to police these vindictive childish men. Other times, a lot of us had to use 1 huge lab with very specialized equipment & would end up sharing one long lab table for a specific step in our experimental procedure, but I’d be the only female among more than 10 men, from every culture you can think of. Well, I’d find myself shoved into, nudged over, my equipment moved or removed if I stepped away, & the men from China were especially hostile & degrading. (The women from China were the exact opposite – almost clingy). If those guys could find a way to make themselves top dog while grinding me into the dirt, they’d do it, no matter what they had to do. Violence, hostility, were no barrier. Dog eat dog.


  3. This is a sad story Mrs.Glass , I know people hate this man and want death. He has truly just slipped off the edge and he may have been on prescription medication that has some homicide side effects . I think his brain just went bad on him like a racoon with rabies . I thought he was Joan Rivers pulled over for a D.U.I. wearing a Sharon Osborne fire red wig ,without the fake eyelashes and 80 pounds of spray makeup. His mug shot really scared me !


  4. Honestly people! It doesn’t take a genious to see that he was drugged and had been dosed up for weeks before. Search the web for “The devils breath” and “us government”


  5. Yes…he was drugged, just as Dr Glass suggests. There is something I noticed that no one seems to have picked up on…the size of his pupils. At the pre-arraignment hearing that Dr Glass discusses, he was absolutely not faking it. Almost all the photos released to us were taken from Holmes’ left side and his eyes are off to the side or cast down. But there is one photo taken from his right side that catches enough of his eyes to enable one to observe that his pupils were dilated to the max. ( I think that when he was stretching his eyes as we saw him do, it was a response to the discomfort of excess light flooding his retina.and possibly a sensation of dryness). There is no way to fake the pupil distention. It is seen primarily from the use of certain drugs but can also occur in persons who have been undergoing prolonged and extreme stress.. In any event, he was not faking anything, including not knowing why he was there.


  6. Reactive Attachment Disorder is written all over this guy. Read the symptoms of the most severe and most dangerous childhood emotional disorder that is higher among adopted children who have experienced trauma, or attachment breaks early in their lives.


  7. If he had a psychotic break that made him do this, it was a long one, because he didn’t do this on the spur of the moment. There’s evidence that he planned this attack, or *some* attack, as early as May as that is the earliest they have receipts for his guns and/or ammunition. Plus, booby trapping his home takes forethought as well.


  8. I completely agree with Dr.Lillian Glass. I felt for the sadness, confusion and fear that Mr.Holmes expressed. This is truly sad for everyone involved. I wish someone could of reached out to him before this tragedy occurred.


  9. I agree. I am sorry for the families who lost loved ones but ever since this happened I could not quit thinking of young James Holmes. It seems as though he has always been alone and probably because he was different then what society accepts. such a brilliant mind at one point has been totally wasted. Such a fine line between brilliance and insanity. He is all alone. I agree – where was anyone who could have taken the time to help him. Someone had to have noticed that he was crashing mentally and not one person stepped in to help him. Why? If maybe just one person could have stepped in Mr. Holmes could have gotten the serious help he needed and others would be alive today.
    Rita – November 27, 2012


  10. I agree . This is Reactive attachment disorder. Even many psychologists/psychiatrist gets it wrong. But if you have once seen it, known somebody close who have that disorder, you know.


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