DENVER — The confessed gunman in the 2015 Planned Parenthood shooting in Colorado Springs has been indicted by a federal grand jury with crimes related to the deadly shooting
61-year-old Robert Dear was taken into federal custody Monday morning at the State Mental Hospital in Pueblo. He appeared before a federal magistrate judge in Denver for an initial appearance Monday afternoon, where he was advised of his rights and the charges pending against him.
When addressing the court Dear stated, “I’m not crazy, I’m just a religious zealot."
He is facing 65 counts of violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act and three counts of use of a firearm during a crime of violence resulting in death where the killing is a murder, according to the indictment.
Dear has been undergoing treatment at the state mental hospital in Pueblo every 90 days for years after he was charged with 179 counts, including murder and attempted murder, in the shooting. He has been deemed incompetent to stand trial and represent himself each time – the first judgment coming in May 2016. A judge ruled in 2017 he could be forcibly given an anti-psychotic medicine.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office said that if Dear is convicted in the federal case, he could potentially face the death penalty, but if that is not considered, he could face a minimum of 10 years and up to life in prison.
U.S. Attorney for Colorado Jason Dunn has not decided whether to seek the death penalty in the case, and the office said it would consult with victim's families in making that decision.
“The dozens of victims of this heinous act, as well as the Colorado Springs community itself, deserve justice,” Dunn said in a statement. “After four years of lengthy delays in state court, and in consultation with the 4th Judicial District Attorney and victims, this office made the decision to charge Mr. Dear.”
The Fourth Judicial District Attorney's Office, which is handling the state case, said that case remains open and will continue to move forward independently. Dear's next state court appearance is still set for Jan. 9, the office said.
"As one of the many responding agencies, the 4th Judicial District Attorney's Office has worked closely with the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Colorado since November 27, 2015," District Attorney Dan May said in a statement. "The indictment, which is fully supported by our office, is a culmination of those joint efforts, and we hope shall serve as notice that the victims in this case will never be forgotten. We want to thank U.S. Attorney's Office for their diligent work."
The office said that U.S. Marshals will determine if Dear will be held in federal custody after his federal detention hearing. It said that there is not a federal homicide statute under which Dear could be charged.
Whitney Phillips, Vice President of Communications and Brand Experience at Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains told us "despite the passage of time, the memories of November 27, 2015, remain all too fresh for many of us, and our hearts go out to all whose lives were forever changed by the actions of the gunman. We look forward to the day when we can all have an element of closure and until then we continue to come together as an organization to recover and to thrive. Given that this is an ongoing legal matter, we are unable to speak any further on the topic."
According to the indictment, Dear went to the Planned Parenthood clinic on November 27, 2015 intending to wage "war" because the clinic offered abortion services. Dear had with him four SKS rifles, five handguns, two additional rifles, a shotgun, more than 500 rounds of ammunition, as well as propane tanks.
Authorities say Dear first shot at people parked next to his truck, killing one and seriously injuring the other two. He then repeatedly shot at three additional people who were in various locations in front of the clinic, killing one and injuring another.
Dear then forced his way into the clinic by shooting through a door to the side of the main entrance. At the time, twenty-seven healthcare providers, employees, patients, and companions were in the clinic and hid in various rooms until they were rescued by law enforcement. During his attack, Dear shot one of these civilians when a bullet he fired went through the wall and into the room where the individual was hiding.
After forcing his way into the clinic, Dear engaged in an approximately five-hour standoff with officials from several law enforcement and public safety agencies, including the Colorado Springs Police Department, El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, University of Colorado Colorado Springs Campus Police, and the Colorado Springs Fire Department.
Dear repeatedly shot at the firefighters and law enforcement officers, killing one officer and injuring four more. Authorities say Dear fired approximately 198 bullets during the attack. He also placed a propane tank in the parking lot and when a law enforcement tactical vehicle was near the propane tank, Dear shot the tank in an attempt to create an explosion.
The three people killed in the attack were UCCS Police officer Garrett Swasey, Ke-Arre Stewart, and Jennifer Markovsky. Eight others were injured, including four police officers.
Today, we remember Garrett Swasey, who was killed in the line of duty 4 yrs ago at an active shooter situation. Garrett represented the best of us, and we continue to think about him and his family on this anniversary.#UCCSPolice #LODD #UCCS pic.twitter.com/zi7bP9wrNl— UCCS Police (@UCCSPolice) November 27, 2019
UCCS Police Officer Garrett Swasey, 44, was a family man and church pastor as well as a champion ice skater who loved playing the guitar.
Those who knew Swasey said they're not surprised that the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs officer chose to rush to the shooting scene when he heard police needed help.
"He was willing to take that risk, that cost," said Scott Dontanville, a co-pastor with Swasey at Hope Chapel days following his death. "That wasn’t just his job, that was his calling as a Christian."
Swasey was a 6-year veteran with the UCCS Police Department. He is survived by his wife, Rachel, and his two children.
Jennifer Markovsky, 36, was accompanying a friend to the clinic when she was killed that day, her father, John Ah-King, told our partners at the Denver Post a few days after the shooting.
"She was the most lovable person," Ah-King told the newspaper from his home in Hawaii. "So kind-hearted, just always there when I needed her."
Markovsky's sister-in-law, Julia Miller, said Markovsky was "a sweet person, very kind to everyone."
Ke'Arre Stewart, an Army veteran who served in Iraq, was among the three killed at the clinic.
Ke'Arre, 29, graduated from La Vega High School in Texas in 2004 and joined the Army, said friend Amburh Butler. Stewart was stationed at Fort Hood and did one tour in Iraq.
Butler, also 29, had been friends with Stewart since they were 11 years old.
"He was a stand-up guy," she said. "If you were hungry, he fed you. If you were cold and needed a ride, he was just there. He was a good friend and an amazing listener."
He is survived by his two children.
Victims' friends: Happy to soon see closure; sentence may never be enough
On news of the federal indictment, News 5 spoke with a trio of people close to some of the victims for reaction.
Marc Pino, chief of police at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs, said to this day, Swasey's memory lives on within the department.
"Garrett's sacrifice really showed the sacrifice that our men and women make every single day," Pino said.
He noted that it's been a long four years waiting for the criminal justice system to move forward.
"When something happens to you as a victim of a crime, you're not able to necessarily move on until a case is complete," Pino said. "It's just nice to feel like you can get some sense of closure. Going on for four years like it has, we haven't moved past this initial stage."
Katie Hunt and Sharon Wolfe worked with Stewart at a call center in Colorado Springs.
Wolfe said she remembers the day of the shooting like it was yesterday, while Hunt recalled the bitter emotion.
"It was really surreal, unbelievable," Wolfe said.
"It's just like this gut-wrenching, you know, terrible feeling that you kind of feel and helplessness. And Ke'Arre was an amazing person and his girlfriend still is, and you're sad for such a loss like that," Hunt said.
Since then, both said their patience has been tested by the stagnant speed of the state's case in district court. That's why they're glad federal prosecutors took action to move the case forward.
"He did a horrible thing, and he killed my friend," Wolfe said.
"You have these hearings and noting comes of it, and the victims are kind of put through it over and over again. So, it's big news to take that step for what little closure can be found in an event like that," Hunt said.
That said, Hunt told News 5 she feels a sentence would never be enough to punish Dear for what he did.
"I think there's no resolution and closures for families and friends and all the victims impacted, because their lives were taken and you can't get that back," Hunt said.