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'The death penalty still matters': How the Club Q shooter may face the death penalty if federally convicted

Colorado abolished the death penalty in 2020
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Posted at 5:19 PM, Jun 26, 2023
and last updated 2024-01-16 17:53:32-05

UPDATE | Jan. 16, 2024 — The Club Q shooter has pleaded not guilty to more than 70 federal charges, including hate crime acts and firearm violations. Read the full story here.


EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. — The FBI has opened an investigation to determine if the Club Q shooter, who pleaded guilty and was sentenced Monday, should face federal charges and the possibility of the death penalty, which is abolished in Colorado.

The defendant in the Club Q shooting case, 23-year-old Anderson Lee Aldrich, was sentenced to five life sentences for five counts of first-degree murder, followed by 2,208 years for 46 counts of attempted first-degree murder. It is the longest sentence in the Fourth Judicial District and, to District Attorney Michael J. Allen's knowledge, the second-longest in the state, only after the deadly Aurora theater shooting in 2012. There is no potential for appeals.

"This plea agreement, quite simply, holds the defendant accountable to the maximum extent possible under the law in the state of Colorado," DA Allen said, later adding, "There exists, for this case, only one death penalty option and that is at the federal level."

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This is what the judge said as he sentenced the Club Q shooter on Monday

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Just before the sentencing in El Paso County court Monday, he said based on the facts of the case and actions of the defendant, they deserves "much more than what we can lawfully achieve here today." (Aldrich uses they/them pronouns.)

Colorado does not have a death penalty as a sentence for serious crimes. It was repealed by the governor in 2020.

DA Allen said the ultimate result of the plea agreement is the maximum sentence they could have achieved, including if the case had gone to trial. The agreement will save the victims and families from participating in the drawn-out court process of a jury trial, he said, though "no amount of prison is enough to repair the damage he caused."

The district attorney said he uses he/him pronouns when speaking about the defendant because there was "zero evidence" before the shooting that the defendant was non-binary, adding Aldrich exhibited extreme hatred for all members of the LGBTQ community.

'He's a coward': Prosecutors speak after Club Q shooter pleads guilty

During a press conference about the plea agreement and sentencing on Monday, FBI Special Agent in Charge Mark Michalek with the Denver Field Office confirmed that the FBI opened a federal investigation in coordination with the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. The division, created in 1957, works to uphold the rights of some of the most vulnerable people, its website reads.

Michalek said the outcome of that investigation is still ongoing.

Denver7 reached out to a spokesperson with FBI Denver, who stated, "All I can do is confirm the FBI investigation and say it is ongoing."

DA Allen stressed that this is why the death penalty is still a part of this case — should the defendant be convicted at the federal level of first-degree murder, they could face lethal injection (Aldrich uses they/them pronouns). That charge is one of several federal crimes punishable by death, according to the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC).

"The death penalty — the threat of the death penalty — in the federal system is a big part of what motivated this defendant to take this plea in our case here in the Fourth Judicial District," he said. "The death penalty still matters. Cases like this are why the death penalty should exist in the State of Colorado. The victims in this case deserve the ultimate punishment that the law can provide. And they were robbed of that by changes in the law just a few short years ago."

Gov. Jared Polis abolished the death penalty on March 23, 2020 when he signed Senate Bill 20-100. The state was the 22nd in the country to remove it. Virginia became the 23rd in 2021.

The federal death penalty applies to every state, but according to the DPIC, it is used relatively rarely. It reports that 16 people have been executed under the federal death penalty since 1988.

DA Allen said he believes the federal system's death penalty is a major reason why the defendant took a guilty plea in the Colorado case.

"Part of that is that in the federal system, if you show substantial mitigation — so if you take full responsibility at the state level — that can sometimes avoid federal death sentence pursuit," he explained. "Whether that happens or not, again, is up to the federal U.S. Attorney's Office. But undoubtedly, both the fact that he decided to take a plea in this case, plus that idea that he was trying to mitigate the bias-motivated charges or the hate charges, I think really again strikes to his cowardice. He was willing to carry out the most horrific attacks on unsuspecting victims, and yet didn't have the courage to stand up and face the potential most serious sentence that he could possibly face."

READ MORE: All Club Q shooting coverage from Denver7

The death penalty was also mentioned by some of the victims during Monday's sentencing and press conference.

Sabrina and Jeff Aston, parents of victim Daniel Aston, said they were thankful to have reached the point where the defendant was sentenced.

Daniel, along with his partner Wyatt Kent, were at Club Q on the night of the shooting. Daniel was killed and Kent told Denver7 that "he died a hero. He saved our door girl's life, as we never doubted he would.”

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His father, Jeff, said he hopes the federal courts decide to press charges against the defendant.

"I hope we get a death penalty out of this because even that is more than this monster deserves," he said.

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Ashtin Gamblin, who was saved by Daniel while working the front door of Club Q that evening, said during the press conference that she wishes execution was a viable penalty in Colorado for the defendant.

"I kind of wish this was a death penalty state, not because I want him to die, but I would like him to sit in a jail cell not knowing when he's going to die or when his last breath might be," she said. "Life in prison right now is as good as I'm gonna get and I'll take that. But quite frankly, I would really prefer that he go through the mental anguish of not knowing when he's gonna die."

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