Save this content for laterSave this content on your device for later, even while offline Sign in with FacebookSign in with your Facebook account Close

Accused gunman in Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood attack could face death penalty, legal experts say

November 29, 2015 Updated: November 30, 2015 at 10:41 am
0
photo - Law enforcement agencies from the Colorado Springs region, as well as from Denver, Colorado, secure the perimeter during the shooting at a Planned Parenthood on Centennial Blvd., in Colorado Springs, Colorado on Friday, November 27, 2015. Photo by Daniel Owen.
Law enforcement agencies from the Colorado Springs region, as well as from Denver, Colorado, secure the perimeter during the shooting at a Planned Parenthood on Centennial Blvd., in Colorado Springs, Colorado on Friday, November 27, 2015. Photo by Daniel Owen. 

Flowers have been laid, candles lit and prayers offered.

But on Monday, attention is likely to shift back to Robert Lewis Dear Jr. in what could be Colorado's next death penalty case.

Dear will be in court at 1:30 p.m. Monday.

As questions mounted Sunday ahead of the first court appearance for the man accused of opening fire at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood, some legal experts say one thing is clear: Prosecutors may seek the death penalty.

"When I saw events unfold, that was my thought: I thought this possibly could be a capital crime," said Colorado Springs attorney Jennifer Stock, a veteran defender of first-degree murder cases. She, like many others across the country, followed the mayhem in media reports.

The early legal questions came as the toll of the state's latest mass shooting became clear, signs of strain emerged among local law enforcement agencies, local agencies consoled grief-stricken witnesses and the investigation stretched into a third day at the shooting site.

An Iraq War veteran and a stay-at-home mother of two were named among the dead in Friday's attack - an act that Gov. John Hickenlooper called a "form of terrorism" in a nationally televised interview.

Ke'Arre Stewart, 29, who previously served in the Army and was raising two children, died in the shooting spree, as did Jennifer Markovsky, 35, who moved to Colorado Springs from Hawaii and had two children.

"I know everyone is struggling with it. It's just hard to believe," said Julia Miller, Markovsky's sister-in-law.

Sunday morning, parishioners held their first church service at Hope Chapel without Garrett Swasey, a University of Colorado at Colorado Springs police officer slain in the shootings. He was a church elder.

Nine people - most of them law enforcement officers - were wounded by the gunfire.

The bloodshed spawned a string of services and two vigils in a city left reeling from its second mass shooting in a month.

On Halloween morning, investigators say a man armed with an AR-15 and two handguns killed a bicyclist and two women at a substance abuse recovery home before dying in a shootout with Colorado Springs police.

After the latest attack, a handful of people sought grief counseling at an American Red Cross center that opened Sunday for people struggling to deal with the trauma. Most of them witnessed Friday's mayhem firsthand at the clinic or the busy shopping center nearby, where dozens sought shelter while the five-hour standoff in the clinic unfolded. Police investigators took statements from some of them.

Other detectives continued their investigation at the bullet-riddled clinic.

Investigators expected to finish examining the facility this week after combing for evidence and cataloging the bullets fired. A Planned Parenthood official said the facility will reopen, but could not say when.

The sheer number of officers who fired rounds Friday rendered El Paso County's SWAT unit short-handed. At least a dozen sheriff's deputies and an unknown number of Colorado Springs police were placed on paid administrative leave.

Doing so is routine after officer-involved shootings, but it left dispatchers scrambling Sunday morning when a man shot his father in the head before barricading himself inside a Gleneagle home in northern El Paso County. Douglas County Regional SWAT members responded instead.

While officers pieced together how Friday's Planned Parenthood shooting unfolded, clues have emerged about what led to the rampage.

After surrendering to officers, Dear reportedly uttered "no more baby parts" - a reference to videos released by anti-abortion activists over the summer targeting Planned Parenthood's practice of using fetal tissue for research.

Several questions emerged Sunday: Who will prosecute the case, who will defend Dear and will the death penalty be sought?

Dear, 57, of Hartsel, is scheduled to appear for his advisement Monday, his first appearance before a judge. He has been held in the El Paso County jail without bond since the attack.

El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder said Sunday that he wouldn't release Dear's booking information, including the names of his attorneys.

"We're not going to release it," Elder said. "We are holding that information until a judge tells us that we need to release that."

The hearing, expected to be held via a video feed from the jail, could signal that prosecutors want to keep the case in El Paso County.

Still, prosecutors have consulted with the U.S. Attorney's Office over whether Dear would be tried locally or in federal court, 4th Judicial District Attorney Dan May confirmed Sunday. He sidestepped further questions about charging considerations and whether local prosecutors would seek the death penalty.

"I'm not going to comment on that," he said.

A source with knowledge of defense preparations confirmed that representatives of the state Public Defender's Office met with Dear at the El Paso County jail. They obtained a signed application for legal assistance, and intend to introduce the document in court Monday.

The source wouldn't specify which attorneys had been assigned, or whether steps were being taken to gird for the possibility of the death penalty.

Local attorneys say the Planned Parenthood shooting is a likely candidate for a death penalty case.

Accusations in the Dear case meet at least three "aggravators," or legal prerequisites to pursue capital punishment, said Joshua Tolini, a Colorado Springs defense attorney who previously served as a deputy public defender.

The assailant allegedly targeted multiple victims, laid in wait before launching an ambush and killed a police officer - factors that are likely to weigh on the minds of Dear's attorneys.

"Any time there's a homicide with statutory aggravators, that's something for them to consider, and they'll staff it accordingly," Tolini said.

The death penalty was most recently sought against James Holmes in the Aurora theater shooting and Dexter Lewis in a Denver bar mass stabbing. Juries instead opted for life sentences in both cases.

Dear's attorneys also are nearly certain to file a change of venue request on the argument that he would be unable to receive a fair trial in El Paso County, Stock, the veteran defense attorney, said.

Either way, it could be a while before prosecutors' intentions for the death penalty are clear.

In Colorado, prosecutors must provide written notice whether they intend to pursue the death penalty within 60 days of the defendant entering a plea.

-

Gazette reporters Ryan Maye Handy, Maria St. Louis-Sanchez and Stephen Hobbs contributed to this report.

Register to the Colorado Springs Gazette
Incognito Mode Your browser is in Incognito mode

You vanished!

We welcome you to read all of our stories by signing into your account. If you don't have a subscription, please subscribe today for daily award winning journalism.

Register to the Colorado Springs Gazette
Register to the Colorado Springs Gazette
Subscribe to the Colorado Springs Gazette

It appears that you value local journalism. Thank you.

Subscribe today for unlimited digital access with 50% fewer ads for a faster browsing experience.

Already a Subscriber? LOGIN HERE

Subscribe to the Colorado Springs Gazette

It appears that you value local journalism. Thank you.

Subscribe today for unlimited digital access with 50% fewer ads for a faster browsing experience.

Subscribe to the Colorado Springs Gazette

Some news is free.
Exceptional journalism takes time, effort and your support.

Already a Subscriber? LOGIN HERE

articles remaining
×
Thank you for your interest in local journalism.
Gain unlimited access, 50% fewer ads and a faster browsing experience.