The gunman accused of killing a police officer and two civilians during a shootout at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Friday was charged with first-degree murder on Monday afternoon, making his first court appearance via video as survivors and victims’ families watched from the courtroom.
Robert Lewis Dear, 57, is being held on no bond. Dear wore a white vest during his appearance and said little as he stood before the camera, confirming his name and answering, “No questions” when asked by the judge. He is being represented by Daniel King, the public defender who represented James Holmes, the Aurora theater mass killer.
The judge said Dear's initial first-degree murder charge could incur a minimum sentence of life in prison and a maximum penalty of death. A formal statement of charges is expected to be read at his next court date, scheduled for the afternoon of Dec. 9.
After the hearing, El Paso County District Attorney Dan May told media he hasn't yet decided whether he will seek the death penalty for Dear.
This is our first look at Planned Parenthood shooter Robert Dear in court this afternoon. pic.twitter.com/QUjXqKz5aq
— KRDO NewsChannel 13 (@KRDONC13) November 30, 2015
Dear surrendered to police on Friday after a nearly six-hour standoff that left nine people, including five police officers, wounded. College police officer Garrett Swasey, 44, died in the gunfire, and officials said on Sunday that 29-year-old Ke’Arre Stewart, a U.S. Army veteran who served in Iraq, and 35-year-old Jennifer Markovsky, a mother of two, were also killed.
Prosecutors requested that arrest reports and search warrants be sealed to avoid “jeopardizing the continuing investigation,” the Washington Post reported. El Paso County Judge Stephen Sletta signed the order approving the request, which stipulates that the documents remain sealed until the case concludes or another court order grants their release.
Officials have said the suspect’s motives for opening fire on the Planned Parenthood clinic are still unclear. In a statement made after he was taken in for questioning, Dear said he was against abortion and made a comment referring to Planned Parenthood about “no more baby parts,” NBC News reported, citing unnamed law enforcement officials. But the sources also said he made many other remarks, including one that mentioned President Barack Obama, and it’s not yet clear to what extent the “baby parts” comment factored into his decision.
Authorities said they found propane tanks near the suspect’s car in the parking lot, indicating he may have intended to cause an explosion by shooting them, an official told CNN.
Dear has been arrested several times in the past, but has never been convicted. In 1997 he was accused by his wife of domestic assault, but no charges were pressed. In 2002 he was dismissed of charges of being a peeping Tom, and in 2003 a bench trial found him not guilty of two animal cruelty charges. But officials said nothing in Dear’s background, such as a felony conviction or prior mental health issue, would have disqualified him from purchasing a high-powered rifle like the one used in the attack.
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch condemned the shooting over the weekend and said the federal government will provide any assistance needed.
“This unconscionable attack was not only a crime against the Colorado Springs community, but a crime against women receiving healthcare services at Planned Parenthood, law enforcement seeking to protect and serve and other innocent people,” Lynch said.
Despite the suspect’s unconfirmed motives, Planned Parenthood officials have said they believe the clinic was targeted for its practice of providing abortions, among other family planning and healthcare services. Friday’s shooting came amid heightened debate about abortion in the U.S. and increased scrutiny on Planned Parenthood, after an anti-abortion group released video footage of staff members talking about extracting tissue from aborted fetuses for use in scientific research. Planned Parenthood has said the footage was highly edited and inaccurate.
In September, the FBI issued a warning to reproductive health care providers about “lone offenders using tactics of arsons and threats, all of which are typical of the pro-life extremist movement.”