October 10, 2018 / 11:11 PM / 8 days ago

Colorado man pleads guilty to three murder counts in Walmart shooting

DENVER (Reuters) - A man accused of fatally shooting three people inside a Denver-area Walmart pleaded guilty on Wednesday to multiple counts of murder in the deaths, under a deal that allows him to avoid execution, prosecutors said.

FILE PHOTO: Police guard the entrance at the scene of a shooting at a Walmart in Thornton, Colorado, U.S., November 1, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking/File Photo

Scott Allen Ostrem, 48, admitted in Adams County District Court to killing Pamela Marques, 52, Carlos Moreno, 66, and Victor Vasquez, 26, in the Denver suburb of Thornton, District Attorney Dave Young said in a statement.

Ostrem strolled into the crowded Walmart with a handgun on Nov. 1, 2017, and killed the three people as they stood in a checkout lane, police said. 

No one else was struck by gunfire.

FILE PHOTO: People watch an ambulance leave at the scene of a shooting at a Walmart in Thornton, Colorado, U.S., November 1, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking/File Photo

Ostrem fled the store and was arrested outside his apartment the next day after police identified him and his car from images captured by security cameras.

No motive for the shootings was ever presented in court.

Ostrem pleaded guilty to three counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder. He had initially been charged with other counts of attempted murder for the shooting inside the packed store, but prosecutors dropped all but one count of that charge in the plea deal.

Ostrem’s court-appointed attorneys declined to comment on the guilty pleas.

The shooting at the Denver-area Walmart was one of 30 “active shooter” incidents in 2017, according to a report from the FBI.

FILE PHOTO: Patrick Carnes is evacuated in a Walmart cart by SWAT medics from the scene of a shooting at a Walmart where Carnes was shopping in Thornton, Colorado, U.S., November 1, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking/File Photo

A series of similar attacks, in which a shooter targets people in a public place, has fueled a long-running debate in the United States between supporters of tougher controls on firearms and advocates for gun rights, which are protected by the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment.

Ostrem faces a mandatory life sentence because Colorado law does not allow parole for anyone convicted of first-degree murder.

Young said he consulted with the victims’ families before taking the death penalty off the table.

Adams County District Judge Mark Warner has set an Oct. 19 sentencing date, when those families will be allowed to describe how the shooting upended their lives.

In January, Warner ordered Ostrem, who has been held without bond since his arrest, to undergo a competency examination after Ostrem expressed a desire to fire his lawyers.

In April, the state mental hospital deemed him mentally fit to stand trial.

Reporting by Keith Coffman; Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Peter Cooney

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