Analysis Violence

A Year After the Colorado Planned Parenthood Shootings, Still No Trial in Sight

Jessica Mason Pieklo

Colorado District Court Judge Gilbert Martinez has now three times found Robert Lewis Dear Jr. not legally competent to stand trial on the 179 criminal counts he faces, including murder and attempted murder.

On November 27, 2015, Robert Lewis Dear Jr. was arrested after a siege at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood left three people dead. One year later, the public is no closer to a full accounting of the incident through a criminal trial, and the victims and their families are no closer to justice for Dear’s admitted actions.

Colorado District Court Judge Gilbert Martinez has now three times found Dear not legally competent to stand trial on the 179 criminal counts he faces, including murder and attempted murder.

The basis of Martinez’s ruling was a diagnosis by state mental health examiners that Dear has a delusional disorder. The delusions, examiners testified, include a belief that the federal government has been targeting Christians and that the FBI was tracking him. Examiners testified that Dear’s disorder is so severe that he cannot meet the lenient standard for legal competency in Colorado. That standard is simply whether or not Dear, at this present time, is able to understand the charges against him and to participate in his own defense.

According to the limited court documents so far made public in the case, Dear has admitted to making a homemade bulletproof vest before the attack, which he said he then wore during the clinic siege. Dear also told investigators he stopped at a crisis pregnancy center about a mile away from the Planned Parenthood clinic to ask for directions. Court documents and testimony also reveal that Dear had collected propane tanks and ammunition, which he brought and set up around the clinic before the siege. Dear told investigators he had shot at, but missed, those tanks, and that his goal had been to create as much carnage as possible.

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Court documents also show that once Dear surrendered to law enforcement, he cooperated with investigators. That was until his defense team was appointed, which put forward an insanity defense against Dear’s own wishes. Dear has stated, both in court and to the media, that he wants a trial, that he knows what he did, and that the attack on the clinic was justified because it would prevent the so-called greater evil of legal abortion.

Anti-choice groups have insisted that Dear is another “lone wolf” whose actions are not representative of the movement to end legal abortion. That’s just not the case.

For example, while Dear apparently acted alone, there is precedent for his probable legal defense. Justifiable homicide—the same argument Dear will almost certainly make should he ever stand trial—is the reasoning that Scott Roeder tried to put forward in his trial for the 2009 murder of Dr. George Tiller. Roeder shot and killed Tiller as the doctor was serving as an usher in church.

Roeder was convicted in 2010 of premeditated first-degree murder for Tiller’s death, and he was originally sentenced by the court to life in prison with no possibility of parole for 50 years. That sentence was an upward departure from the guidelines, a decision the court grounded in the disturbing nature of Tiller’s murder.

But a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that held that juries, not judges, should decide whether to increase punishments upended Roeder’s verdict. Last week, Roeder was re-sentenced to 25 years in prison—a far more lenient sentence than his original sentence of life without parole.

In addition, Dear has claimed to be a “warrior for the babies” who targeted Planned Parenthood because it “sell[s] baby parts”—a widely debunked argument put forth by the anti-choice activist David Daleiden and his front group the Center for Medical Progress.

Those same claims of providers profiting from fetal tissue donations have been fomented by Republicans in Congress, who have spent nearly $800,000 in investigations targeting abortion providers based on the fabrications. As Colorado-based provider Dr. Warren Hern told panel members in his response to their demand he answer questions related to his clinic’s handling of fetal tissue, an investigation based on fraudulent assertions isn’t designed to uncover any “truth.” It’s designed to put a target on the back of abortion providers.

It’s no wonder, then, that the radical anti-choice group Operation Rescue is pushing Republicans to continue their investigations into the next congressional session.

Dear will face another competency evaluation in early 2017, though it is unlikely the court’s determination will change which means the criminal case against him remains at a standstill. Roeder will remain in prison, but now has a glimmer of hope he could be released before he dies. In the meantime, though, congressional Republicans appear intent to charge ahead with a bogus investigation that threatens to put providers at risk much the same way Daleiden’s videos did in Colorado.

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