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Jul 28, 12:07 PM EDT

Colorado theater shooter's sister says she still loves him, didn't know he was mentally ill


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CENTENNIAL, Colo. (AP) -- When the younger sister of Colorado theater shooter James Holmes visited him in jail nearly two years after the attack, she no longer saw the loving brother who protected her when they were growing up.

"His whole demeanor seemed different," Chris Holmes said of the May 2014 visit. "His eyes, they were almost bugging out of his head."

Chris Holmes, 22, became the first in her family to testify at her brother's death penalty trial Monday, saying in an effort to spare his life that she did not believe her brother was mentally ill growing up, but she also did not know how to recognize the signs.

Defense attorneys began calling more witnesses Tuesday to testify about James Holmes' character as jurors consider whether he should serve life in prison without parole or be executed for killing 12 people and injuring 70 others during a crowded midnight movie in July 2012.

A college friend, Harry Soren Carr, testified that Holmes was an introverted man with a self-deprecating sense of humor who didn't make fun of other people.

Holmes' parents, Robert and Arlene Holmes, also are expected to take the stand after sitting behind him in court every day of his 12-week trial. Defense attorneys intend to show jurors video of the family in better times, including gathered around the dinner table at Christmas.

Holmes' lawyers say the once-promising neuroscience student should get a life term because he is severely mentally ill and has a family who still loves him.

They showed jurors photos on Monday of Holmes and his sister smiling during vacations to Hawaii and the California mountains. Others showed them as young children riding bikes or a 5-year-old Holmes holding his 2-year-old sister in a clumsy embrace.

Chris Holmes grabbed her favorite photo in the minutes after she learned about the shooting, while investigators searched her family's home. It shows them as kids, grinning while flossing their teeth.

"How do you feel when you look at it now?" defense attorney Rebekka Higgs asked her.

"Sad," she said, fighting tears. "Just sad."

Holmes had no visible reaction to his sister's sometimes tearful testimony, even as she sat just feet from the defense table where he was tethered to the floor.

Growing up, she said, he was an introvert who kept his feelings to himself for fear of burdening others.

"He never wanted to be the center of attention," she said.

Although she doesn't write to him in jail, she said she hoped to continue their relationship.

"I still love him," Chris Holmes said.

Earlier Monday, a court-appointed psychiatrist who found Holmes was legally sane during the attack testified that his severe mental illness led him to open fire on the theater.

Dr. Jeffrey Metzner concluded that Holmes knew right from wrong, therefore meeting the legal definition of sanity under Colorado law. But Metzner also said the attack would not have happened if not for Holmes' mental illness.

"Having psychosis doesn't take away your capacity to make choices. It may increase your capacity to make bad choices," Metzner testified. "He acted on his delusions, and that's a reflection of the severity of his mental illness."

Jurors rejected Holmes' insanity plea and convicted him of 165 counts of murder, attempted murder and other crimes. They decided unanimously last week that the attack was cruel enough to justify the death penalty, but they must now determine whether Holmes is so mentally ill he should not be executed.

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