A photo can make a huge difference in forming public opinion. James E. Holmes is on trial for the rampage murders at the Aurora Colorado movie theater in July of 2012. Holmes was recently convicted of the murder of 12 people and the injuries to at least 70 others. A Centennial, Colorado jury is deliberating now on his fate and deciding whether he will face the death penalty. Holmes’ defense team have put forward an insanity defense, a defense proven extremely hard to prevail with American juries.
Many Americans have repeatedly seen several photographs of Holmes. In one set of popular photos, taken in court, Holmes has bright red died hair and a wide eyed look. He has a scary appearance. Here is one such recent court photograph of Holmes:
James Holmes Appears In Court (Photo by RJ Sangosti/Getty)
And here is another photograph with wide circulation of James Holmes, his police mug shot. He has shorter hair, but still a somewhat frightening appearance:
James Holmes’ mug shot. (AFP Photo / Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office)
One wonders, though, if public opinion of Holmes would be affected if older photos of Holmes were chosen for mass exposure by the news media. You see, before going on his horrible, blood curdling rampage, Holmes appears to have led a normal suburban life. That is not to suggest that Holmes did not display evidence of mental illness; experts have been debating that in court over the last few weeks. Holmes, though, was an honors high school student and an extremely high achieving college student as well. Holmes graduated from Westview High School in the Torrey Highlands community of San Diego, where he played soccer and ran cross-country track.
Holmes studied neuroscience from The University of California/Riverside, graduating with high honors and a 3.95 GPA. He was enrolled in a PhD program.
Take a look at Holmes’ high school yearbook photo, taken just six years before his rampage. There’s a good chance you’ve never seen this photo on the evening news or your local newspaper; I know I had not:
James E. Holmes 2006 High School Yearbook Photo (Photo courtesy of The Daily News).
What a startling difference, right? If this was the photograph plastered all over CNN, Fox, MSNBC and the New York Times, do you think America would have a different image of Holmes? How many people are aware of his high achieving childhood of relatively normal youth? What happened to this young man in the six years from his suburban California high school graduation to 2012 when he shot 70 innocent people? The experts agree he suffered from schizophrenia.
The images are revealing.
(Note: Jim blogs about Rampage murders for the Huffington Post.)