Judge finds evidence to try suspect in attack on gay club
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — There is sufficient evidence to send to trial the person accused of killing five people and wounding over a dozen others at a gay nightclub in Colorado Springs last year, a judge ruled Thursday.
The ruling that sends Anderson Lee Aldrich to trial on dozens of murder and hate crime charges came after a hearing Wednesday in which prosecutors presented evidence that they visited Club Q at least six previous times, drew a map showing the layout of the club, and appeared to be planning to livestream the attack using a mobile phone duct taped to a baseball hat found in their SUV.
Appearing in the courtroom in an orange jumpsuit, hands cuffed, Aldrich had no visible reaction to the ruling after crying at time during the testimony. The 22-year-old, who identifies as nonbinary and uses the pronouns they and them, is charged with more than 300 charges including murder and bias-motivated crimes.
District Attorney Michael Allen told the judge that the evidence showed that Aldrich had an “aversion to the LGBTQ community.” The prosecution argued that the attack last November was inspired by a “neo-Nazi white supremacist” shooting training video.
Aldrich’s lawyers countered with a picture of a suspect under the influence of drugs. The defense also brought up Aldrich’s mental health for the first time, showing photographs of pill bottles for drugs that Aldrich had been prescribed to treat mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and PTSD. But defense attorney Joseph Archambault didn’t say whether Aldrich had been formally diagnosed with any of those mental illnesses.
Archambault told the judge that what happened was “senseless and it was tragic” but noted that Aldrich expressed remorse.
“It does not excuse it but it is categorically different from people who target a group,” Archambault said.
Judge Michael McHenry also ordered Aldrich to continue to be held without bond. He had to decide only whether prosecutors have shown during this week’s hearing that there is probable cause that Aldrich committed the crimes they are charged with in order for the case to move ahead to a trial. At a trial, prosecutors are held to a higher standard and must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to convince jurors to convict defendants.
Unlike other crimes, hate crime charges require prosecutors to present evidence of a motive — that Aldrich was driven by bias, either wholly or in part.
Although Aldrich identifies as nonbinary, someone who is a member of a protected group such as the LGBTQ community can still be charged with a hate crime for targeting peers. Hate crime laws are focused on the victims, not the perpetrator.
The lead detective in the shooting, Rebecca Joines, testified that Aldrich posted the neo-Nazi video, which featured attacks on synagogues and mosques abroad, including on two mosques in New Zealand in 2019, on a website they either created or administered. Joines said that Aldrich had not created the video, which has been posted by many others online, but that she believed they were seeking to emulate it with the attack on the club.
Aldrich also shared an image of a rifle scope trained on a gay pride parade and often used an anti-gay slur, according to two online acquaintances interviewed by investigators, Joines said.
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