COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — A shooter seemed to be driven by bias against the LGBTQ community in plotting an attack at a gay nightclub in Colorado Springs, killing five and wounding 17 others, a judge acknowledged Thursday in finding that prosecutors showed enough evidence for trial on murder and ha te crime charges.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys had argued Wednesday over whether Anderson Lee Adlrich’s actions were a hate crime. Aldrich, who is nonbinary and uses they and them pronouns, had visited Club Q at least six times in the years before the attack, witnesses testified. The venue has long been a sanctuary for the LGBTQ community in the mostly conservative city.
District Attorney Michael Allen told the judge that the evidence showed that Aldrich had a “distaste for LGBTQ,” pointing to an online message of a rifle scope over a gay pride parade picture and use of gay slurs against others and while online gaming. Aldrich was forced to go to the club by their mother, he said, while arguing the attack was inspired by a “neo-Nazi white supremacist” shooting training video posted on a website Aldrich ran.
“We presented evidence regarding the defendant’s aversion to the LGBTQ community, evidence related to the defendant’s mother forcing him to go to a club against his will and sort of forced that culture on him,” said Allen, who consistently used male pronouns for Aldrich.
Allen said at a news conference that using the male pronoun was “unintentional.” But asked later whether he believed Aldrich was nonbinary, Allen said: “My belief has nothing to do with that so I am going to refrain. Again you can jump to your own conclusions as far as that goes.”
Aldrich’s lawyers pushed back against the notion that the crime was hate-motivated by arguing that Aldrich was drugged up on cocaine and had taken multiple tablets of the anti-anxiety drug Xanax and the stimulant Adderall the night of the shooting.
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 post-traumatic stress disorder.
Defense attorney Joseph Archambault told the judge that what happened was “senseless, it was awful and it was tragic” but noted that Aldrich expressed remorse. He noted that most mass shooters who target a specific group post manifestos. That, he stressed, was not what Aldrich had done.
“It doesn’t excuse it. It’s not a defense. It doesn’t change anything. But it is categorically different than the people who target a group and are unapologetic about it later,” Archambault said.
Judge Michael McHenry didn’t specifically address the hate crime debate, saying only that there was sufficient evidence for the case to move toward trial.
Appearing in the courtroom in an orange jumpsuit, hands and ankles shackled, Aldrich had no visible reaction to the ruling after crying at times during the testimony. The 22-year-old faces more than 300 charges including murder and bias-motivated crimes.
Judge McHenry also ordered Aldrich to continue to be held without bond. McHenry agreed to delay the arraignment until May, anticipating that the defense will try to hire experts to see if Aldrich would qualify to enter a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. However, he warned Aldrich’s attorneys that being under the influence of illegal drugs or alcohol can not be considered the cause of insanity. Allen said it was premature to discuss the potential for such a plea.
No trial date has been set.
Several victims’ families filed out of the court afterward without talking and met behind closed doors with prosecutors at their office across the street.
McHenry 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 hearing also revealed that Aldrich might be gay, something not previously mentioned by prosecutors or defense attorneys. Aldrich told one of the patrons who helped stop the attack, “My mom will not accept me because I’m gay.” Aldrich then added, “You’re all the same,” the lead detective in the shooting, Rebecca Joines, testified during cross examination.
Joines also testified about a neo-Nazi video, which featured attacks on synagogues and mosques abroad, including on two mosques in New Zealand in 2019. It was posted on a website that Aldrich 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.
Exhibits from the hearing also were released Thursday, including photos of a bullet riddled rainbow-colored shooting target that was found in the room of Aldrich’s mother and a note found in the apartment where Aldrich also lived.
“Please,” the note read, “relieve me of my own fate, I’m drowning in my wake. How long must I wait for you to rid me of this hate.”
Also released was a receipt that showed that on one of Aldrich’s visits to the club before the shooting, they bought two vodkas and “gayoli fries” from bartender Derrick Rump, who was among those slain.
A representative with the federal public defender’s office was in court for the hearing but the office has a policy of not talking to the media. When Allen was asked whether the U.S. attorney’s office was considering charges in the case, he noted that the federal system has the death penalty, although there is a moratorium on executions. Colorado, meanwhile, has abolished the death penalty. Allen referred questions to federal prosecutors, who previously said they don’t comment on whether they are considering pursuing cases.
Associated Press journalist Heather Hollingsworth contributed from Mission, Kansas.