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Mar 31, 12:37 PM EDT

Colorado theater shooter's mom feels guilt over his illness


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DENVER (AP) -- The mother of Colorado theater shooter James Holmes feels guilty for not knowing her son was mentally ill and needed treatment, she wrote in a book of prayers and reflections compiled since the 2012 attack.

Arlene Holmes wrote in "When The Focus Shifts: The Prayer Book of Arlene Holmes 2013-2014," that she can never forgive herself for not predicting the shooting that killed 12 and injured 70.

"I wrote Jim a letter telling him I am sorry I did not know that he was mentally ill," she wrote in a March 2014 passage. "The letter did not assuage my guilt. I apologize to the whole world. I was uneducated. So many deceased and so many badly injured, and I am still alive."

Holmes announced the book to the Del Mar Times ( http://bit.ly/1IKADqV ) in her first interview since the shooting. She and her husband told the newspaper they still hope their son's life can be spared through a plea deal. Opening statements in the death penalty case are scheduled for April 27.

"This book is being published to raise awareness of the immorality of the death penalty and the futility of seeking justice through execution," she wrote in the book, which was taken largely from her handwritten journals.

The rest of the book contains prayers for prosecutors and defense attorneys, her experiences in the courtroom and reflections on her own struggles with depression after the shooting. She writes that she prays for victims daily, naming each of them. She also laments what she sees as a lack of compassion for the mentally ill.

Holmes' parents and attorneys have said he was in the grips of a psychotic episode when he slipped into the suburban Denver movie theater and opened fire, but the book offers no new insight into his diagnosis.

In an entry from Jan. 12, 2013, she recalled the violence and wrote, "What were you thinking, Jim? And what are you thinking now? Praying for Jim in jail; please don't commit suicide. You lived so that we could understand you and others could study you and learn to prevent future tragedy."

In another from March 22, 2013, she wrote that her recollections of her son as empathetic and responsible don't explain the shooting.

"My son never harmed anyone," she wrote. "People think he is a monster, but he has a disease that changed his brain."

The book comes after defense attorneys asked a judge to move the proceedings out of the community where the attack occurred, saying publicity has biased many prospective jurors against Holmes.

Some victims' families questioned the timing.

"I can only think this is some kind of ploy. This is some type of strategy cooked up by the defense to try to save someone's life," said Tom Sullivan, whose son Alex was killed in the shooting.

Holmes' mother's apologies mean little to him, he said. "As far as people I think about on a daily basis, they are so far down the list, it's not worth mentioning."

Marcus Weaver, who was shot in the arm and whose friend Rebecca Wingo died in the attack, echoed Sullivan's belief that the timing of the book aims to drum up sympathy.

"It just brings it all back, the hurt. It's not even healthy for us to read that book," Weaver said. "What's it going to do for a victim, a survivor to read that book? ... The jury is going to decide his fate. His mom can't decide it."

Neither Holmes' parents nor an attorney representing them immediately responded to requests for comment. Arlene Holmes said her son's defense team had no knowledge of the book.

A spokeswoman for District Attorney George Brauchler declined to comment on the book, citing a gag order preventing those involved in the case from talking about it.

But in court filings released Monday, prosecutors, arguing against a change in venue, wrote that publicity that may have been most memorable was a letter Holmes' parents wrote to The Denver Post, presumably to garner sympathy for their son.

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Associated Press writers Donna Bryson, P. Solomon Banda and Thomas Peipert contributed to this report.

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