"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." - Oscar Wilde

Monday, November 30, 2015

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

Robert Lewis Dear Jr
Robert Lewis Dear Jr.
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.

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 1st-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 3rd day at the shooting site.

An Iraq War veteran and a stay-at-home mother of 2 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 2 children, died in the shooting spree, as did Jennifer Markovsky, 35, who moved to Colorado Springs from Hawaii and had 2 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.

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

The bloodshed spawned a string of services and 2 vigils in a city left reeling from its 2nd mass shooting in a month.

On Halloween morning, investigators say a man armed with an AR-15 and 2 handguns killed a bicyclist and 2 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 5-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 1st 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.

Source: gazette.com, November 30, 2015

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