The man accused of a deadly shooting spree inside a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado made his first court appearance on Monday afternoon, facing charges of first-degree murder for the deaths of three people.
Robert Lewis Dear, 57, spoke only to say he understood the potential charge against him, acknowledging the accusation that he killed three people and injured nine others in the attack in Colorado Springs last Friday.
He is being held without bond at the El Paso County criminal justice center in Colorado Springs, and appeared by video link from the jail.
An expression like a faint smirk crossed the suspect’s face from time to time during the short hearing, as attorneys and the judge discussed legal formalities.
They agreed Dear would appear in court again on 9 December to hear the full roster of charges against him.
Through most of the proceedings Dear stood calmly, his short, unkempt hair and beard hardly changed from police mugshots published after his surrender on Friday.
No official motive for the attack was outlined, despite previous reports that he had said “no more body parts” to police during his arrest. The shooting has intensified a raging political debate about abortion rights, drawing in opposing activists and presidential candidates.
The court appearance was presided over by Gilbert Martinez, chief judge for Colorado’s fourth judicial district. He asked the defendant over the video link if he had any questions.
“No questions,” Dear replied in a level voice. At the end of the hearing, Dear appeared to mouth a silent “thank you”.
Martinez said Dear faces a minimum sentence of life in prison and a maximum sentence of the death penalty. During the hearing, Dear stood next to a public defender, Daniel King, who previously represented James Holmes, the gunman found guilty of killing 12 people in a movie theatre in Aurora, near Denver, in 2012.
Dear has been held without bond since he was taken into custody late on Friday, five hours after the shootout with police began.
Former neighbors have described Dear as a loner who lived in a remote trailer, more than 60 miles from the site of the harrowing siege he allegedly instigated.
He is originally from North Carolina, where he has been traced to a bleak, rundown cabin with almost no amenities.
The attack prompted President Barack Obama to call once again for greater gun safety laws to tighten up on the easy access to “the weapons of war on our streets to people who have no business wielding them”.
Among the 2016 presidential candidates, reaction to the shooting has been split across party lines.
Democrats have voiced their support for both Planned Parenthood and stricter gun laws in the wake of the shooting, while Republicans have called for a focus on mental health.
“We should be supporting Planned Parenthood, not attacking it,” Hillary Clinton said on Sunday before reiterating her call for gun control.
Groups aligned with Democrats have criticized the Republican response, with the Democratic National Committee going after Florida senator Marco Rubio, in particular, for remaining silent on the attack despite having a swift reaction to the terrorist attacks in Paris.
On Monday, Rubio addressed the shooting when asked by a New Hampshire radio show what his action would be on domestic terrorism.
“As a country, we need to be more serious about how we address mental health,” Rubio said, while adding that the Planned Parenthood shooting was “horrifying.”
He then echoed similar statements he has made after other high-profile shootings, by focusing on a “societal breakdown”.
“We need to look at our society at large. Why is it that these things are happening?” Rubio said. “Not every problem in America has a federal government solution to it. A lot of them lie in our own homes, in our own neighborhoods, in our own communities.”
The court appearance on Monday gave no further insight into Dear’s possible motives. Dear reportedly muttered “no more baby parts” while he was arrested, according to an NBC report that cited unnamed investigators.
Observers have taken this as a reference to the continuing political controversy over several videos released by an anti-abortion group filmed undercover and apparently showing Planned Parenthood staff discussing the sale of fetal tissue from abortions for medical research.
According to public records, Dear has lived in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia and has a record of brushes with the law. In South Carolina in 2002, he was arrested on a count of animal cruelty when a neighbor’s dog was shot with a pellet gun. He was found not guilty by a county court.
In the same county that year, he faced a misdemeanor charge for “peeping tom, eavesdropping or peeping”, when another neighbor complained to police. The charge was dismissed at a preliminary hearing, and the neighbor filed a restraining order.
On Friday, in freezing temperatures and driving snow, police laid siege to the clinic where Dear was allegedly attempting a mass killing.
Many Planned Parenthood staff, patients and those accompanying them to the clinic were able to flee into the interior of the building and lock themselves in windowless rooms after the suspect entered the premises. By 4pm local time, police were able to enter the clinic and convince him to surrender.
But not everyone was able to avoid the many rounds he fired from inside.
The victims have been named as Jennifer Markovsky and Ke’Arre Stewart, who were visiting the clinic, and local police officer Garrett Swasey, who responded to the scene after shooting began shortly after 11.30am local time.
In a Department of Justice statement on Saturday, John Walsh, a US attorney for the state, said that federal law enforcement was working “in close support” of the Colorado Springs, county and state police and district prosecutors in a “focused” investigation.
This article titled “Colorado Planned Parenthood shooting suspect makes first court appearance” was written by Joanna Walters in New York and Sabrina Siddiqui in Washington, for theguardian.com on Monday 30th November 2015 22.57 UTC