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Death penalty expert represents man suspected in Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood shooting

November 30, 2015 Updated: December 1, 2015 at 7:31 am
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The specter of the death penalty loomed Monday as a top Colorado public defender specializing in such cases stood at a hearing beside the state's latest mass shooting suspect.

One argued law and the other appeared dazed, as if struggling to stay awake.

The first court appearance for Robert Lewis Dear, Jr. in Friday's attack at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic laid the foundation for Colorado's next possible death penalty case. It came as investigators continued collecting evidence at the clinic and political rhetoric about the shootings continued at a fever pitch.

Advising Dear was Dan King, chief trial deputy for the state public defender's office. He recently represented James Holmes, who fatally shot 12 people and wounded dozens of others in 2012 at an Aurora movie theater. A jury decided against the death penalty in favor of sentencing Holmes to life in prison.

Appearing in a video feed from jail, Dear, 57, showed no emotion when advised of possible first-degree murder charges in connection with Friday's attack, which left three people dead and nine wounded by bullets. An unknown number of people also were injured in other ways, including three law enforcement officers.

He gazed listlessly at the judge when told he faces life in prison or death if convicted. Standing 6-foot-4, Dear's gravelly voice was heard just three times. He wore a so-called turtle suit - a vest designed to ensure he doesn't harm himself.

"Yes," he replied on two occasions, when asked if he could hear the judge over the jail's video system.

"No questions," he later said, shaking his head after being advised of his rights.

Also with Dear was Sheilagh McAteer, a Colorado Springs-based public defender who defended cop killer Jereme Lamberth in the 2006 slaying of Colorado Springs police officer Jared Jensen.

King cautioned that the public defender's office is representing Dear, but no specific attorneys have been formally named to the case.

Local attorneys say the office typically mobilizes its death penalty team to begin laying the groundwork for a defense, even though other attorneys might represent him in court.

Other charges could be filed Dec. 9, when Dear is scheduled to appear before 4th Judicial District Court Chief Judge Gilbert Martinez.

Fourth Judicial District Attorney Dan May said he would personally help prosecute the case, along with Jeff Lindsey and Donna Billek, two of the office's top prosecutors.

May also said he has spoken to U.S. Attorney John Walsh, and that Walsh cut his vacation short to consult with prosecutors.

However, May declined to say whether federal charges would be filed.

The case could stretch well into 2016 before prosecutors announce whether they'll pursue the death penalty. They have 63 days after defendants enter a plea to file that notice.

Moments before the hearing, a procession lined up outside the El Paso County jail where Dear was being held without bond - making way for slain University of Colorado at Colorado Springs police officer Garrett Swasey. His body was taken in a flag-draped coffin from the nearby El Paso County Coroner's Office to a funeral home, escorted by more than a dozen police cruisers.

Ke'Arre Stewart, 29, an Army veteran and father of two children, also died in the attack. Also killed was Jennifer Markovsky, 35, a married stay-at-home mother who had two children, a boy and a girl.

Markovsky's husband Paul issued a statement after the hearing - calling his wife caring, compassionate, patient and understanding.

"She was deeply loved by all who knew her," Paul Markovsky said in the statement. "She was always helping the kids do homework and reading books with them. We will miss her; her cooking, crafting and adventurous spirit."

He asked for privacy to allow the family time to grieve.

Autopsy results released Monday showed each of the three victims died of at least one gunshot wound, said Lt. Catherine Buckley, a Colorado Springs police spokeswoman. Their deaths were ruled homicides by the El Paso County coroner.

More businesses re-opened Monday for the first time since the shootings, leaving only the Planned Parenthood clinic and its parking lot closed.

Meanwhile, investigators said information on weapons used by the suspect or law enforcement officers during Friday's attack would not be made public, nor would 911 tapes or closed circuit surveillance footage of the clinic. Several court documents, including Dear's arrest warrant and a search warrant filed by Colorado Springs police, have been sealed.

The investigation stretched on as political rhetoric about the shootings swelled.

Much of it centered around four words Dear reportedly uttered upon his surrender - "no more baby parts" - in apparent reference to videos released by an anti-abortion group over the summer targeting Planned Parenthood's practice of providing fetal tissue for research.

Republican lawmakers seized on the videos and sought to de-fund Planned Parenthood - demands that threatened, for a time, to lead to a federal government shutdown.

Along with the "baby parts" comment, which was first reported by NBC News, Dear also mentioned several other topics, including President Barack Obama. It all left specific motive for the attacks unclear. The Gazette has not independently confirmed those remarks.

Also on Monday, new details of Dear's life emerged.

He has had at least three wives and four children, The Post and Courier newspaper of South Carolina reported. He was charged in a 1992 rape case, but a disposition did not show up on his criminal record, the newspaper reported.

He had several other run-ins with law enforcement in South Carolina, including arrests on suspicion of animal cruelty, being a peeping Tom and domestic violence.

He was found not guilty in the animal cruelty case. And charges in the other cases were either dismissed or never filed.

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Gazette reporters Ryan Maye Handy, Maria St. Louis-Sanchez, and Lance Benzel contributed to this article.

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