COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Reuters) - The man accused of killing three people and wounding nine in a shooting rampage at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs was told he faces first-degree murder charges during his first court appearance on Monday.
Robert Lewis Dear, 57, appearing by video link from jail, spoke only to tell a judge he understood and had no questions. There was no discussion of the motive for the Friday shooting during the brief hearing, and formal charges will be filed next week.
Police records from North Charleston, South Carolina, showed that Dear was charged with rape there in 1992, although Reuters could not determine in court records how the case was resolved.
Planned Parenthood has said reports that Dear told investigators “no more baby parts” after his arrest showed he was acting on an anti-abortion agenda.
Chief Judge Gil Martinez told Dear, who was in handcuffs and leg irons and strapped into a padded vest, apparently for his own safety, that if convicted, he faces a minimum sentence of life without parole or a maximum of death.
District Attorney Dan May said prosecutors had 63 days after Dear’s arraignment to decide whether to bring a death penalty case. Documents in the investigation were ordered sealed by the court on Monday.
For his appearance by closed-circuit camera from the jail where he is being held without bond, Dear was flanked by Dan King of the state’s public defender’s office. A handful of victims sat in the front of the packed courtroom, watching Dear on a screen.
The rampage blamed on the South Carolina native is believed to have been the first deadly attack on a U.S. abortion provider in six years. The Colorado Springs center has been the target of protests by anti-abortion activists.
A police officer and two civilians died in the attack, which according to emerging details, began just outside the building, adjacent to a shopping area on the northwest side of Colorado’s second-largest city.
Ke’Arre Stewart, 29, an Iraq war veteran, was shot in front of the clinic after walking out to talk on his cell phone. Wounded, he ran back inside to warn others to take cover, his brother told NBC News. Stewart died of his wound.
“I believe that’s his military instinct, you know,” NBC News quoted his brother, Leyonte Chandler, as saying. “Before his time ran out, I guess that was his main priority ... to help and save other lives.”
U.S. Justice Department officials have joined the investigation, raising the possibility the federal government could bring a terrorism or civil rights case against Dear.
Planned Parenthood was already on heightened alert against threats of violence nationwide. Some affiliates said they would review their security measures further.
Several U.S. media outlets, citing unnamed law enforcement sources, have said Dear used the phrase “no more baby parts” in statements he made to investigators after his surrender. Reuters could not independently confirm those reports.
The reported comment was widely seen as an apparent reference to secretly recorded videos released months ago that anti-abortion groups have said showed Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of aborted fetal tissue.
Planned Parenthood has said the videos were produced to distort the issue of fetal-tissue donations made by the group for scientific research.
Authorities have said they do not know what precipitated the attack and have declined to discuss publicly the suspect’s motives.
The police records from South Carolina show that a woman living in the Charleston area told police that Dear, then a 34-year-old self-employed art salesman, approached her at her place of work in 1992 and repeatedly asked her out on dates despite her refusals.
According to a police report, the woman told investigators that in November of that year, she was taking out the trash when Dear put a knife to her throat and forced her back inside, where she said he raped her.
Reporting by Keith Coffman; Additional reporting by Harriet McLeod in Charleston, South Carolina, and Daniel Wallis and Dan Whitcomb; Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Peter Cooney