A state court Thursday found Robert Lewis Dear Jr., not competent to stand trial for the November 2015 siege of the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic that left three people dead.
This is the fifth time Dear has not been found competent to stand trial. Given the law’s low standard of what a defendant must demonstrate to be deemed not competent for trial, the repeated denials of competency determinations are suspect. On Thursday, as in previous hearings, Dear was deemed not competent based on what were mostly his political, conspiratorial beliefs; he believes that federal agents are watching him, for example.
And it’s worth reiterating a few important facts about the case. Dear surrendered to authorities during the clinic attack, admitting while in custody that his advance planning included crafting a homemade bullet proof vest and collecting propane tanks and ammunition. In addition, Dear admitted to authorities he brought those tanks with him to use as bombs outside the clinic. He told them he shot at the tanks, but missed, and then proceeded to storm the clinics. He also said he wanted to attack Planned Parenthood because he believed the organization was illegally selling “baby parts.” Dear not only told law enforcement these facts; he told the press at every opportunity he had.
We also know Dear didn’t want to put forward an insanity defense, but instead wanted to argue his actions were “justifiable homicide”—the same defense Scott Roeder, the man who murdered abortion provider Dr. George Tiller, wanted to argue in his case. It was Dear’s defense team that advanced his insanity defense, over Dear’s objections.
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But at this point, that’s all we know. Judge Gilbert Martinez, who oversaw the case before his retirement, sealed it almost in its entirety from the public and the press until the Colorado Supreme Court told him in March 2016 to “rethink” that decision. The result was a limited release of documents like arrest warrants. The state won’t even allow its own experts to evaluate Dear—routine in litigation—until the state itself decides Dear is competent. And only the state’s own experts evaluate Dear.
The competency determinations and the state’s lack of transparency have also stalled civil litigation around the siege. That litigation, brought by survivors as well as family members of the deceased, could help them pay for the cost of the medical treatment related to the incident.
However if the state decides Dear will never become legally competent, it could either begin the process of civilly committing Dear to a mental health facility for the rest of his life or release him on bond with conditions that he must meet in order to remain out of state custody, such as remaining on medications or regularly meeting with psychiatrists.
Dear’s next hearing is set for November 21 before Chief Judge William Bain. In the meantime, it’s worth asking: Why are there so many secrets around this case?
It’s an important question when Operation Save America, the radical anti-choice spin-off group from Operation Rescue, has promised a return to the “clinic rescue movement.” Clinic rescues include such actions as protesters linking arms to prevent patients, providers, and their companions from physically entering clinics; gluing shut clinic entrance locks; or handcuffing themselves to gurneys. (Dear’s ex-wife told the New York Times that he had bragged to her about putting glue in the locks of a Charleston, South Carolina, Planned Parenthood.) During the 1991 “Summer of Mercy,” it included thousands laying down in the streets outside Dr. Tiller’s clinic, getting arrested then bailed out only to do the whole thing all over again.
Such tactics helped to prompt the 1994 Federal Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act that is designed to protect abortion clinics and providers from just that kind of harassment and abuse. And anti-choice activists made statements in July indicating they planned to ignore it, daring the Department of Justice (DOJ) to try and enforce the law against them. They went so far as to launch a trial balloon of this tactic against the lone remaining abortion clinic in Kentucky. The group claims to be working with the administration of Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, who has made clear his intention to try and close the clinic through whatever means he can.
If there’s good news, it is that protesters from that Louisville siege are facing FACE Act prosecution. But with anti-choice Attorney General Jeff Sessions at the DOJ helm, along with his insistence on attacking civil rights at every turn, I have to think it’s only a matter of time before refusing FACE Act enforcement and prosecution is next.
And given the resurgence of OSA and other similar groups, it is especially disturbing that transparency around Dear—himself an extremist who admitted to deadly tactics in his anti-abortion crusade—seems to be nonexistent.