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Colorado man deemed unfit for state court in abortion clinic shooting faces federal charges

DENVER (Reuters) - A man deemed mentally unfit to face trial in state court for a shooting spree that killed three people at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado was indicted on Monday on federal charges stemming from the 2015 rampage, U.S. prosecutors said.

FILE PHOTO: Robert Lewis Dear, 57, accused of shooting three people to death and wounding nine others at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado last month, attends his hearing to face 179 counts of various criminal charges at an El Paso County court in Colorado Springs, Colorado December 9, 2015. REUTERS/Andy Cross/Pool

The homicide charges contained in both the state and federal indictments are capital offenses, but prosecutors have yet to determine whether they would seek the death penalty if the defendant were convicted.

Robert Lewis Dear, 61, was taken into federal custody early on Monday at the State Mental Hospital in Pueblo, Colorado, where he has been confined under court order for four years, and appeared later in the day before a U.S. magistrate judge in Denver.

But the hearing was postponed until Friday after Dear, a onetime self-employed art dealer, told the judge he wanted to represent himself, Denver television station KMGH reported.

As he has during previous proceedings, Dear ranted in federal court about abortion and the selling of body parts. “I am not crazy, I’m just a religious zealot,” the TV station quoted him as saying.

Dear was originally charged with multiple counts of murder and dozens of additional offenses in the shooting at the Colorado Springs clinic that killed a U.S. military veteran, a mother of two small children and a police officer. Nine others were wounded in the five-hour siege.

In courtroom outbursts, Dear said he was guilty and proclaimed himself “a warrior for the babies,” prompting a state judge to order a mental evaluation that led to him being declared incompetent to stand trial.

An appeals court in January upheld the state’s authority to forcibly medicate Dear in an effort to restore his fitness for prosecution, but the case has remained in legal limbo.

With a statute-of-limitations deadline looming on some federal charges, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Denver decided to seek its own indictment, containing 65 counts of violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, plus three counts of using a firearm in an act of violence resulting in murder.

The indictment alleges Dear went to the Planned Parenthood clinic in November 2015 armed with an arsenal of rifles and handguns with the intent to wage “war” because the center provided abortion services.

El Paso County District Attorney Dan May, the state prosecutor in the case, said his office supported the federal indictment and intended to eventually move forward with its case separate from U.S. court proceedings.

Reporting by Keith Coffman; Additional reporting by Maria Caspani in New York; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Peter Cooney