Nation

Suspect in Colorado clinic attack appears in court for first time

Prosecutor in talks on possible federal charges

 Robert L. Dear Jr., who appeared via video link, is accused of fatally shooting three people.
DANIEL OWEN/THE GAZETTE VIA AP
Robert L. Dear Jr., who appeared via video link, is accused of fatally shooting three people.

COLORADO SPRINGS — The man accused of fatally shooting three people during a rampage at a Planned Parenthood clinic last week made his first court appearance Monday, and learned he will face first-degree murder charges in the deaths of three people killed in a five-hour standoff with police.

Wearing a white padded vest with his hands and legs shackled, Robert L. Dear Jr. listened as a judge read the charges against him.

“The initial charge is murder in the first degree,” said Judge Gilbert Anthony Martinez of Colorado’s Fourth Judicial District. “The penalty is a minimum of life in prison and a maximum of death.”

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Judge Martinez spoke from a courtroom where a video feed of Dear streamed in from a cinderblock room at the El Paso County Criminal Justice Center, where he has been held without bond since Friday’s attack at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs.

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The white-bearded suspect wore a padded vest with black straps and looked downward during most of the hearing. Victims’ relatives watched from a courtroom.

Martinez asked the suspect if he had any questions.

“No questions,’’ Dear replied slowly in a raspy voice.

Dear, 57, will return to court Dec. 9, when prosecutors will present a list of specific charges.

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After the hearing, the district attorney, Dan May, declined to say whether he would seek the death penalty. He added that he had “been in discussion” with federal officials about the possibility of federal charges.

Senior officials in the Justice Department have said they are considering whether to bring a case. Dear could be charged with a federal hate crime or with violating a 1994 federal law that makes it a crime to use physical force against patients and clinic employees.

Authorities said Dear turned a shopping center here into a scene of carnage on Friday.

The victims were police officer Garrett Swasey, 44, a native of Melrose, Mass.; Iraq war veteran Ke’Arre Stewart, 29; and a mother of two children, Jennifer Markovsky, 35. Nine others were wounded, and hundreds more were trapped in nearby businesses as the police struggled to take the gunman into custody.

Police have not discussed a motive, and it remains unclear whether the gunman targeted Planned Parenthood because he opposed abortion. But according to one senior law enforcement official, Dear mentioned “no more baby parts” during a rambling interview with officials after he surrendered.

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In the closed-circuit video, Dear appeared next to Dan King, a public defender who has tried some of the highest-profile cases in the state. The public defender’s office will represent Dear, King said.

In the courtroom, about 20 people sat in the gallery. Several had told court officers that they were connected to the attack.

In Colorado, prosecutors recently sought the death penalty in two cases: the trial of James E. Holmes, who killed 12 people in a movie theater in Aurora, Colo.; and the trial of Dexter Lewis, who stabbed five to death in a Denver bar. In both cases, life sentences were imposed.

The shooting last week was the latest in a long series of attacks on abortion clinics, and it has fueled conversations about two of the country’s most heated topics: guns and abortion rights.

Here in Colorado Springs, pockets of the city were still on guard. At Penrose Hospital, where three of the wounded were still being treated, a “security concern” prompted the hospital to go on lockdown on Monday morning, though no details were available.

The lockdown was lifted after the Colorado Springs police responded, and the hospital said everyone was safe.