Suspect in Planned Parenthood attack makes 1st court appearance

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Colorado Springs shooting suspect, Robert Lewis Dear (right) appears via video Monday before Judge Gilbert Martinez, with public defender Dan King, at the El Paso County Criminal Justice Center for his first court appearance. He faces first-degree murder charges. | Daniel Owen/The Gazette via AP, Pool

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The man accused in the shooting rampage at a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic made his first court appearance Monday and learned that he will face first-degree murder charges in the deaths of three people killed in the standoff with police.

Speaking in a raspy voice, Robert Lewis Dear appeared via a video hookup from the El Paso County Jail, where he has been held since surrendering after Friday’s five-hour siege.

The white-bearded suspect wore a padded vest with black straps that authorities described as a standard-issue “safety smock.” He gazed downward during most of the hearing. Victims’ relatives watched from a courtroom.

When asked by Chief District Judge Gilbert Martinez if he understood his rights, Dear replied, “No questions.”

Public defender Daniel King, who represented Colorado theater shooter James Holmes, stood beside Dear and will act as his attorney. Dear is expected to be formally charged on Dec. 9.

Dear, 57, is accused of fatally shooting Garrett Swasey, a university police officer who responded to the attack, and two civilians who were accompanying separate friends to the clinic: Jennifer Markovsky, 36, a mother of two and Ke’Arre Stewart, 29, an Iraq War veteran and father of two. Nine other people were wounded.

After Monday’s hearing, District Attorney Dan May said Dear could face other charges, but he did not elaborate.

Late Monday, Markovsky’s husband released a statement recalling how she read to their two children and helped them with their homework. “We will miss her; her cooking, crafting and adventurous spirit,” Paul Markovsky wrote.

Police have declined to speculate on a motive for the attack. A law enforcement official said Dear told authorities “no more baby parts” during a rambling statement after being arrested. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not allowed to publicly discuss the ongoing investigation.

Planned Parenthood has said witnesses believe the gunman was motivated by his opposition to abortion. But Dear has been described by acquaintances as a reclusive loner who did not seem to have strong political or social opinions.

The Colorado district attorney said he has been in touch with U.S. Attorney John Walsh’s office about the case. Walsh said investigators have been consulting with the Justice Department’s civil rights and national security divisions, a move that suggests authorities could pursue federal charges in addition to state homicide ones. He did not elaborate.

One possible avenue could be the 1994 Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, which makes it a crime to injure or intimidate clinic patients and employees.

Whatever authorities decide about motive is sure to be controversial, given the political murkiness of Dear’s statements and the debate over Planned Parenthood, which was reignited in July when anti-abortion activists released undercover video they said showed the group’s personnel negotiating the sale of fetal organs.

A Republican congressional leader on Monday defended a House investigation of Planned Parenthood’s provision of fetal tissue to researchers.

But House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, also indicated that the GOP-run Congress will not risk a government shutdown fight with President Barack Obama over GOP efforts to halt federal funding for the organization.

McCarthy contested suggestions by Planned Parenthood’s defenders that harsh language from the organization’s critics has helped create a hostile political environment. Planned Parenthood gets about a third of its annual $1.3 billion budget from Washington. Federal money cannot be used to finance abortions except in rare cases.

Little information about Dear’s beliefs or his background has been released, and documents in the case have been sealed.

Dear was arrested in 1992 in North Charleston, South Carolina, on a charge of criminal sexual conduct after a woman said he put a knife to her neck, forced her into her apartment and sexually assaulted her after hitting her in the mouth. No records show how the case was ultimately handled.

Investigators said Dear told them he knew the woman and had consensual sex with her.

SADIE GURMAN, Associated Press

Associated Press Writers Alan Fram in Washington, D.C., and Skip Foreman in Charlotte, North Carolina, contributed to this report.

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