James Holmes’ smile defines his face. It is quiet and restrained. Not much is known about him. He was not on any social media site and was never seen with anyone else. We are told that he drank Mountain Dew, bought chips at the grocery store, and filled gas in his car.

He seemed to be just an ordinary young man.

On a summer night in the heartland town of Aurora in Colorado, at the midnight movie premiere of “The Dark Knight Rises” Holmes uncovered, for all the world to see, a malignant personality. With researched efficiency, Holmes re-created an alternate movie set and played the role of writer, actor, director and cameraman. He captured the imagery of his scripted scene through the (metaphorical) viewfinders on his assault rifles.

A recent editorial in the San Jose Mercury News stated that “The alleged shooter, 24-year-old James Holmes, had to be suffering from some sort of mental illness to do what he did.”

Is Holmes insane? One of the traditional determinations of insanity in criminal cases is not being able to distinguish between right and wrong and fantasy from reality.

In Holmes’ case, his surrender to the police leads me to believe that he was aware he had done something “wrong,” and his murderous grandstanding at the movie theater was executed to dissolve the (our) demarcations between fantasy and reality.

The American legal system defines and determines motives for crime and conviction and judge and jury are expected to consider these at sentencing. “The only real defense would be the insanity defense,” said the former federal prosecutor Rick Kornfeld in the New York Post.

We may be force fitting the rubric of insanity on Holmes without compelling justification.

In my opinion, insanity cannot excuse or defend a crime of this nature. It just helps us understand it. It helps us come to grips with the motivations behind a killing spree. It helps us put a humane spin on an inhumane act. It helps the victims’ families come to terms with an overwhelming loss.

I don’t believe Holmes is insane, yet that seems to be the only way to explain why any young man would indulge in random and senseless mayhem. How can we reconcile his lack of humanity otherwise?

 Jaya Padmanabhan

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