In November 2015, a gunman drove up to a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood and opened fire before storming into the facility and continuing to shoot. Three people were killed, and nine were injured. Robert Lewis Dear Jr., the man charged in the attack, allegedly muttered “no more baby parts” while being taken into custody.
Dear, a self-proclaimed “warrior for the babies,” was charged with 179 crimes, including murder and attempted murder. But nearly seven years after the massacre, Dear — who suffers from a form of delusional disorder — has been repeatedly deemed incompetent to stand trial.
On Monday, however, U.S. District Judge Robert E. Blackburn issued an order that prosecutors say may break the impasse, ruling that the government can force Dear, 64, to take antipsychotic medication that experts said is likely to make him competent to stand federal trial. Competence is measured by a defendant’s ability to understand the consequences of the proceedings and assist in the defense.
Since his earliest court appearances, Dear has frequently interrupted court proceedings with outbursts, declaring at one hearing: “There is no trial.” Because of his mental state, and determinations that he was incompetent to stand trial, Colorado’s murder case against Dear stalled. But in 2019, Dear was indicted on 68 federal charges, many for alleged violations of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, meant to protect people seeking and providing services at reproductive health facilities.
As in the state case, an evaluation of Dear determined that he was not fit to stand federal trial, and Blackburn last September ordered Dear into a mental facility where he could be monitored. Medical experts subsequently determined that Dear’s competence could not be restored without medication, prosecutors said. But Dear has so far refused to take the medication, according to the judge’s most recent order.
In December, prosecutors moved to have that medication given to Dear against his will, so that a trial may have a chance at proceeding.
Dear has opposed the action. During an August hearing, according to the Associated Press, he said: “This is my brain at stake. They want to turn me into a zombie.” His defense team has also argued that the medication could worsen his blood pressure and cholesterol, the AP reported. His attorneys did not immediately respond to a request for comment for The Washington Post early Wednesday.
On Monday, Blackburn sided with the prosecution, finding that Dear’s health is likely to not be negatively affected by the medication and that prosecutors had a “important interest” in seeing the case move forward. He said the medication should be administered “involuntarily and forcibly if necessary.”
Since 2003, there have been more than 130 federal cases in which a judge considered a motion for involuntary medication of a defendant, Slate reported in June. In 62 percent of the cases, the motion was granted.
Courts have the authority to order involuntary medication under the 2003 U.S. Supreme Court precedent Sell v. United States, which established the “Sell test” for courts to consider whether a defendant deemed incompetent to stand trial should be forcibly medicated. The prosecution must have an important interest in moving forward with the case; the involuntary medication must significantly further those interests; it must be necessary to further those interests; and it must be determined the medication won’t adversely affect the defendant’s health.
Susan McMahon, a clinical law professor at Arizona State University who has closely studied the forcible medication orders, told The Post that in most cases, the courts have interpreted the test too broadly. That leaves some defendants with mental illness facing nonviolent charges being forcibly medicated, she said.
Where the law has failed “is that courts have taken a very expansive view of what qualifies as serious crime,” McMahon said, adding that few of the cases she has studied involved physical violence, much less homicide.
The effect, she said, leaves people with mental illness stuck in jail, waiting for the process to play out — some, for as long as the sentences they face. “Then all of a sudden you have individuals who go through the whole process, they go to trial, and then even if they’re convicted, they’re just released,” having already served their time, she said, adding that some are not even convicted.
But McMahon said that Dear’s case, which involves murder allegations, is different.
“This is the kind of case where I think … we need to be able to prosecute in order to get some kind of resolution,” she said.