The man accused of killing three people at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs made his first court appearance Monday, wearing a padded vest and standing with his eyes closed for parts of the hearing.
A judge advised Robert Lewis Dear, 57, that he’s being held on suspicion of first-degree murder, a charge that could carry a minimum penalty of life in prison or a maximum penalty of death if he’s convicted. The formal filing of charges in the case, and the next hearing for Dear, is set for December 9.
Dear, who’s being held without bond, faced the judge via a video feed from jail. At times, he stood with his eyes closed as the judge spoke. Wearing a white vest that authorities described as a standard-issue “safety smock,” he said just a few words in answer to questions from the judge and did not enter a plea or discuss the details of the case. Daniel King, a public defender who’s representing him and stood by his side throughout the hearing, also served on the defense team for convicted Colorado movie theater shooter James Holmes.
Dear is accused of killing a police officer and two civilians in a shooting rampage Friday. The closely watched case has already united even staunch opponents in the abortion debate.
Dear mentioned “baby parts” after the shooting and expressed anti-abortion and anti-government views, a law enforcement official briefed on the investigation said.
Investigators have not publicly disclosed a motive, but the mayor of Colorado Springs, John Suthers, said it can be inferred by the location of the attack.
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch called it a “crime against women receiving health care services.” Vicki Cowart, president of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, was clear that she believes the shooter “was motivated by opposition to safe and legal abortion.”
Nine people were wounded in the rampage, which brought common ground between Planned Parenthood’s leadership and conservative presidential candidate Mike Huckabee: Both called it an act of terrorism.
“I think there’s a lot of belief that this qualifies as a form of domestic terrorism,” Dawn Laguens, Planned Parenthood’s chief experience officer, said.
Huckabee echoed that sentiment.
“What he did is domestic terrorism, and what he did is absolutely abominable — especially to us in the pro-life movement, because there’s nothing about any of us that would condone or in any way look the other way on something like this,” Huckabee said.
Official: Suspect had duffel bag with handguns, rifles
Dear surrendered Friday after a nearly six-hour standoff.
While the district attorney in Colorado weighs which state charges to file, the U.S. attorney’s decision on whether to bring federal hate crime or terrorism charges will likely take more time and further investigation, a law enforcement official said.
At this point, investigators believe Dear acted alone, and they’re working to interview witnesses and anyone he may have spoken with before the attack, the official said. So far, they haven’t pinpointed why the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood location was targeted or a clear motive, the official said.
They’re also reviewing evidence found in and around the facility, the official said, including handguns and rifles Dear allegedly brought to the scene in a duffel bag and propane tanks investigators believe he planned to use as part of his attack.
The Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado Springs had protective windows, along with a safe room and closed circuit television surveillance video, common security practices adopted by the organization at facilities in recent years, another law enforcement official said.
Before Friday’s attack, a private security guard posted at the facility had left when his shift ended. Another security guard was scheduled to come in later that day, a Planned Parenthood official said.
“The staff at this health center were trained in security measures, and they acted swiftly and in accordance with their training,” Vicki Cowart, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, said in a statement. “They worked closely with law enforcement to prevent this tragedy from being far worse than it was.”
A hermit’s shanty
Dear is being held without bail in a Colorado Springs jail, according to the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office.
He apparently lived in solitude in the Carolinas, then more recently in Colorado. He’s believed to have moved from North Carolina to Colorado about a year ago, living in an RV on a vacant piece of land.
Over a decade ago, he had some run-ins with the law while living in South Carolina but was never convicted.
In 1997, Dear’s wife accused him of domestic assault, although no charges were pressed, according to records from the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office in South Carolina.
In 2002, Dear was charged with being a peeping Tom; those counts were dismissed.
In 2003, he was arrested and charged with two counts of animal cruelty, but he was found not guilty at a bench trial.
He later made his home in a hermit shanty in the mountains of North Carolina, CNN affiliate WLOS reported. It published a photo of a small, basic cabin in the woods of Buncombe County.
The Sheriff’s Office there knew Dear from a single civil citation issued in 2014 for allowing his dogs to run wild.
Planned Parenthood videos
Planned Parenthood has recently faced intense political and social opposition.
Eight undercover videos released over the summer by anti-abortion activists have stirred caustic criticism against the reproductive health services provider. The controversy has reached the halls of Congress, where conservative politicians have demanded the group’s defunding.
Planned Parenthood has said the videos, which alleged illegal fetal organ sales, were heavily edited and inaccurate.
At least three of the organization’s buildings have been vandalized since September, not long after the last video appeared.
The violence and vandalism are troubling signs that the language political leaders use could have dangerous repercussions, Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards told CNN’s “AC360” on Monday.
“It is really disturbing to see the kind of hateful rhetoric about Planned Parenthood, about the women who come to us, about the doctors who provide health care,” she said. “It’s very hard to see these kinds of violent incidents that I think sometimes this rhetoric fuels.”