COLORADO SPRINGS — The man accused of opening fire inside a Planned Parenthood clinic here last week, killing three people and injuring nine others, made his first court appearance Monday and was told he will be charged with first-degree murder.
Robert Lewis Dear Jr., the 57-year-old suspected gunman, has been held without bond since he was taken into custody. Dear appeared in court through a video feed on Monday afternoon, his impassive face appearing on a flatscreen television in the courtroom.
Relatives and friends of people killed in the shooting were quietly seated in three wooden benches, their arms around one another as they watched Dear, who stood with his hands cuffed and wearing a white, sleeveless vest.
Dear spoke only four words during the hearing. He twice said “Yes” when asked if he understood his rights and the charge he would face. Gilbert Martinez, chief judge for Colorado’s 4th Judicial District, asked Dear if he had any questions.
“No questions,” Dear replied calmly. At the end, Dear could be seen mouthing a silent “Thank you” before the screen turned black.
Dear, who will be formally charged on Dec. 9, faces a minimum sentence of life in prison and a maximum sentence of the death penalty, Martinez said.
During the hearing, Dear stood next to Daniel King, his public defender. King was one of the attorneys defending James Holmes, who was convicted earlier this year of killing 12 people and wounding another 70 during a 2012 shooting spree in a Colorado movie theater. Holmes’s long, emotional trial only concluded in August, when the same jury that had found him guilty opted to sentence him to life in prison rather than give him the death penalty.
The Planned Parenthood shooting killed a police officer, Garrett Swasey, and two civilians identified Sunday: Ke’Arre Marcell Stewart, a 29-year-old Iraq War veteran and father of two, and Jennifer Markovsky, a 35-year-old mother of two who was at the clinic supporting a friend.
Stewart “was the kind of guy who always had your back,” said Anthony Fisher, 32, an Army veteran who deployed to Iraq in 2004 with Stewart. “I like to think he was like that until the end.”
Fisher watched the news of the initial hearing at his house not far from the Colorado Springs airport.
“Murder is a tough word,” said Fisher, who was choking up. “I haven’t been able to get myself to say Stewart’s name and that word in the same sentence.”
The hearing on Monday did not shed any additional light on what authorities believe motivated the shooting, and police have yet to officially announce a motive in the case.
However, Dear attacked a clinic run by Planned Parenthood, an organization that has drawn intense scrutiny recently, and he mentioned “baby parts” to police during his arrest, according to a law enforcement official. The same official told The Post that the shooting was “definitely politically motivated.”
Vicki Cowart, president of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, said in a statement that based on witness accounts, Dear “was motivated by opposition to safe and legal abortion.”
Advocates for abortion rights say there is a clear connection between the shooting and a series of covertly filmed videos alleging that Planned Parenthood illegally sells fetal tissue. Anti-abortion groups have condemned the shooting, denied any knowledge of Dear and stressed that he is not affiliated with their efforts.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) called the shooting “a form of terrorism” during an appearance on CNN.
Dear has been described by people who know him as a malcontent who drifted from place to place and had a series of run-ins with neighbors and police, dating back to a 1997 incident where Dear’s then-wife reported to police that he had assaulted her. While many of his closest relatives have declined to talk about him since Friday, some who remembered him have said he could seem aggressive or delusional.
Arrest and search warrants in the case have been sealed, according to an order signed by Stephen J. Sletta, an El Paso County judge.
Prosecutors with Colorado’s 4th Judicial District asked that the search warrant, arrest warrant and related applications be sealed, saying in their request that these documents “were to be released, it could jeopardize the continuing investigation.”
The order signed by Sletta states that these documents will be sealed until the conclusion of the case or by another court order.
A federal investigation into the shooting is also ongoing. Colorado U.S. Attorney John Walsh said in a statement that his office was in close touch with local law enforcement as well as the Justice Department’s civil rights and national security divisions.
Berman reported from Washington.
[This post has been updated. First published: 9:39 a.m.]