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Judge moves Club Q suspect’s murder, hate-crime case to trial

Noah Reich, left, and David Maldonado, put up a memorial on Nov. 22 with photographs of the five people who died in a mass killing at Club Q, an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs. (David Zalubowski/AP)
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A Colorado judge ruled in favor Thursday of allowing prosecutors to try the alleged shooter in the Club Q massacre last year on murder and hate-crime charges after hearing evidence about the suspect’s alleged preparation for the attack and harsh attitudes against the LGBTQ community.

Judge Michael McHenry made the ruling a day after a detective testified that Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, ran a site featuring neo-Nazi videos and sent a photo of a rifle scope aimed over a Pride parade to a contact on the instant-messaging platform Discord. Colorado Springs detective Rebecca Joines also said that friends recalled Aldrich’s using gay and racial slurs while playing video games.

“We have evidence that in a two-and-a-half-mile radius around his location, there were 53 bars; only one of them was LGBTQ,” District Attorney Michael J. Allen said. “And that’s the one that he chose to go to on November 19, 2022, and carry out the indiscriminate shooting and killing of five victims and wounding many others.”

Aldrich was captured on surveillance footage storming into Club Q and firing an AR-style weapon, killing five people and injuring more than a dozen, authorities said, but they had released relatively little information on a motive. The attack ended when an Army veteran and another patron subdued the shooter.

Prosecutors have charged Aldrich with multiple counts of murder, attempted murder and hate crimes. The state was required to present evidence of a motive to support the hate-crime charges. McHenry ruled that there was probable cause to believe the suspect had targeted Club Q because it is an LGBTQ establishment.

The threshold to proceed with a trial is considerably lower than the proof beyond a reasonable doubt required to secure a conviction.

“This is not a case of who did it,” said Karen Steinhauser, a judge and adjunct professor at the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law. “This is a case of why.”

The shooting renewed calls for stronger gun laws in a state that has experienced a disproportionately large number of mass killings over the years. Colorado has a red-flag law allowing authorities to remove guns from potentially dangerous people. Aldrich had previously been arrested in connection with an alleged bomb threat but was not prosecuted.

Some answers about how Aldrich obtained the two weapons used in the shooting came to light during Wednesday’s preliminary hearing. According to Joines, the firearms were privately manufactured and possibly made with an at-home kit. They did not have serial numbers and would not have required a background check.

Defense attorneys have said that Aldrich identifies as nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns. Joines added that friends of the suspect told her that Aldrich’s mother also identified as nonbinary and forced the 22-year-old to go to LGBTQ clubs. Joines said that investigators found a note inside the apartment Aldrich shared with his mother. “Please relieve me of my own fate, I’m drowning in my own wake,” the note read. “How long must I wait for you to rid me of this hate.”

The district attorney previously said the suspect’s gender identity was “part of the picture” but did not influence the decision to file hate-crime charges.

According to an unsealed arrest affidavit, Aldrich arrived at Club Q a haven for the LGBTQ community in conservative Colorado Springs shortly before midnight, parking a gold Toyota Highlander near the entrance. Surveillance video shows them exiting the driver’s-side door wearing what appeared to be a ballistic vest and carrying an AR-style rifle. Investigators said the suspect “opened fire indiscriminately” after entering.

Richard Fierro, the veteran who helped subdue the shooter, told investigators he was seated at a table with family and friends, expecting to watch his daughter’s friend perform, when he heard gunshots near the front door. He ducked for cover and then saw the suspect continuing to fire. A man pulled Aldrich to the ground, and Fierro said he went to help that person, striking the shooter and removing a gun.

Police then arrived and took the suspect into custody.

Much of Wednesday’s hearing consisted of detective testimony recounting the crime scene. Aldrich sat in the courtroom hunched, at times wiping their face with a tissue, as the prosecutors projected graphic photographs from the scene of the shooting.

Colorado Springs police detective Jason Gasper described the images, which showed weapons, bodies of victims and blood. He also provided detail on photographs of evidence found in Aldrich’s home, including shooting targets, one of which depicted a human body in purple, red, yellow, green and blue, as well as a sketch with a rough layout of Club Q.

Those details were among several pieces of evidence prosecutors said pointed toward Aldrich’s deliberately targeting Club Q because of what it represented. The alleged assailant had visited the nightclub six times before returning to the club in November and opening fire.

Aldrich has not yet entered a plea, but defense attorneys have offered some indications about the case they intend to present. They said that Aldrich was a member of the LGBTQ community and presented evidence pointing to suspected drug use, showing images of prescription medications he’d been given to treat a variety of mental health conditions.

“What the court has, we would submit, is not motivations against that community,” Joseph Archambault, one of Aldrich’s attorneys, said. “What we have is someone who was on a lot of drugs, has a lot of mental health issues.”

McHenry ordered Aldrich held without bond and set an arraignment for May 30.

Allen said he is confident prosecutors have enough evidence to convict Aldrich on the hate-crimes charges, noting that Colorado law was recently amended so that the state need only prove someone acted wholly or in part by their bias toward a particular group.

“That change in the statute allowed us to charge a lot of these offenses in this particular case,” he said at a news conference after the ruling.

Ian Farrell, an associate professor at the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law, noted probable cause is not a difficult standard to meet in a preliminary hearing and that prosecutors will face a steeper hurdle in getting a conviction.

“Proving beyond reasonable doubt that these actions were motivated by animus towards a particular group of people is a lot harder,” he said. “It’s not enough to show that somebody is disposed to dislike a particular group. Rather, they have to show that the actions that took place, of which the crime consisted, were motivated by those feelings or beliefs or antipathy.”