CENTENNIAL, Colorado (Reuters) - Accused Colorado gunman James Holmes made threats prior to a shooting rampage that left 12 people dead at a suburban Denver movie theater last month, and had been barred from the University of Colorado, a prosecutor said on Thursday.
Holmes was "making threats and those threats were reported to police," prosecutor Karen Pearson said during a hearing on whether prosecutors can have access to his university records. Pearson did not elaborate on the nature of the threats.
Holmes, a former neuroscience graduate student, is accused of opening fire on July 20 at a midnight screening of the new Batman movie "The Dark Knight Rises" in the suburb of Aurora. Another 58 people were wounded.
Pearson portrayed Holmes as a young man whose academic career at the University of Colorado was in tatters, saying he had failed oral board exams in early June and one of his professors had suggested he may not have been a good fit for the competitive program.
Subsequently, Holmes started making threats that were reported to police and he was denied access to the University of Colorado campus prior to the July 20 shooting, Pearson said.
"The prosecution was very aggressive today. They are obviously building a case based on revenge," said Craig Silverman, a former Denver prosecutor now in private practice who has been following the case.
"Motive is not required but jurors will want to look for a reason why this guy did it, which will go against an insanity defense," Silverman said.
Holmes' attorney said during a previous court hearing that he suffers from an unspecified mental illness and had tried to get help, and local media have reported he saw at least three mental health professionals before the shooting.
Defense attorney Daniel King said he opposed giving prosecutors access to Holmes' university records, accusing them of going on a fishing expedition.
Holmes, who appeared in court for the hearing clad in a red jumpsuit with his dyed red hair fading to orange and pink, seemed alert but calm and had the beginnings of a beard. Authorities say that after his arrest Holmes referred to himself as the "Joker," in reference to Batman's comic-book nemesis.
Court papers filed by defense attorneys in July said Holmes had been a patient of the medical director for student mental health services on campus, Dr. Lynne Fenton, before he filed paperwork to drop out of the neuroscience graduate program.
As in many states, mental health care providers in Colorado must warn authorities of potential violent behavior only when a patient has communicated a serious threat of imminent physical violence against a specific target.
Previous media reports have said Fenton reported her concerns about Holmes to a campus threat assessment team and a campus police officer.
Holmes is being held without bond in solitary confinement at the Arapahoe County jail. Prosecutors have not yet decided whether they will seek the death penalty.