The man suspected of fatally shooting 12 people in a Colorado cinema left a good impression on the people he met in his pursuit of a Neuroscience career, with a reference describing him as having a “great amount of intellectual and emotional maturity”.

That account comes in a recommendation letter sent to the University of Illinois Neuroscience program as part of James Holmes’ application to the school last year.

The names of those who wrote the reference letters were blacked out.

The letter and all the university’s documents related to Holmes were provided to The Associated Press on Friday after an open records request.

The News-Gazette in Champaign, Illinois, first obtained the documents.

Holmes declined to attend the highly selective program, and instead attended the University of Colorado, Denver, studying Neuroscience until he dropped out in June.

He gave no reason for declining the offer of admission in Illinois, and no reason for dropping out in Colorado.

Holmes is accused of killing 12 people and wounding 58 in the attack during a midnight showing of the new Batman movie.

Holmes lawyers say he is mentally ill.

Letters, his resume and a personal statement written by Holmes paint a picture of a bright student who is committed to pursuing a career as cognitive neuroscientist.

“Researching learning and memory interests me because these are the very cognitive processes which enable us to acquire information and retain it,” he wrote in his personal statement.

“They are at the core of what distinguishes us as people.”

In recommendation letters, Holmes is described as being in the top one percent of his honours classes.

“He takes an active role in his education, and brings a great amount of intellectual and emotional maturity into the classroom,” one recommendation letter reads.

“James received excellent evaluations from the professors and graduate students with whom he worked and was mentored.”

Another letter describes him as “a very effective group leader” on assignments.

That description is a stark contrast to his demeanour in court, where he seems dazed, looking straight ahead and avoiding eye contact with those sitting in the courtroom.

As part of his application, Holmes submitted a picture of himself standing next to a llama.