A judge ruled Thursday that there is enough evidence to send a man accused of killing five people in a mass shooting at a Colorado LGBTQ club last year to trial.
The decision to send Anderson Lee Aldrich to trial on dozens of murder and hate crime charges came after Wednesday’s hearing in which prosecutors presented evidence that he had been to Club Q at least six times, one showing the club’s layout Mapped and appeared to be planning to livestream the attack using a mobile phone duct taped to a baseball cap found in his SUV.
Aldrich, who wore an orange prison jumpsuit during the hearing and cried several times, had no apparent reaction to the judge’s ruling. The 22-year-old, who identifies as non-binary and uses those pronouns, is charged with 323 criminal counts, including first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, first- and second- degree assault and a crime motivated by bias. ,
District Attorney Michael Allen told the judge that evidence showed Aldrich had a “hate of the LGBTQ community”. Prosecutors argued the attack last November was inspired by a “neo-Nazi white supremacist” shooting training video.
Aldrich’s attorneys protested with a photo of a suspect under the influence of drugs. The defense also brought up Aldrich’s mental health for the first time, showing pictures of pill bottles for medications Aldrich was prescribed to treat mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and PTSD. But defense attorney Joseph Archambault did not say whether Aldrich had been formally diagnosed with any of these mental illnesses.
Archambault told the judge that what happened was “stupid and it was sad” but noted that Aldrich expressed remorse.
“It doesn’t excuse it but it’s clearly different from those that target a group,” Archambault said.
Judge Michael McHenry also ordered Aldrich to be held without bond. All they had to decide during this week’s hearing was whether prosecutors could demonstrate that Aldrich committed the crimes he is accused of in order for the trial to proceed. In a trial, prosecutors are held to a higher standard and must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in order to convince jurors to convict the defendant.
Unlike other crimes, hate crime charges require prosecutors to present proof of a motive—that Aldrich was motivated by prejudice, either in whole or in part.
Although Aldrich identifies as non-binary, someone who is a member of a protected group such as the LGBTQ community can still be charged with a hate crime for targeting peers. Hate crime laws are focused on the victim, not the perpetrator.
The lead detective in the shooting, Rebecca Joins, testified that Aldrich posted a neo-Nazi video that linked attacks on synagogues and mosques abroad, including two mosques in New Zealand in 2019, that he either built or administered. Joins said that Aldrich did not make the video, which was posted online by several others, but believed that they were seeking to emulate it with the attack on the club.
Javier Kraus, a former neighbor and friend of the suspect, told NBC News in an exclusive interview last year that an FBI agent asked him about the two websites at the FBI field office in Colorado Springs.
Krause told investigators that one of the websites, a forum-type “free speech” site where people anonymously posted racist and anti-Semitic memes, language and videos, was created by the suspect.
Cross, who lived a door away from Aldrich in a Colorado Springs apartment complex, according to public records, said he told the FBI that Aldrich created the free speech website in late spring or early summer. Cross said Aldrich described the site as “a forum where people can go and post whatever they want.”
According to two online acquaintances interviewed by investigators, Aldrich also shared an image of a rifle scope trained on a gay pride parade and frequently used an anti-gay slur.
Authorities said Aldrich entered the club and immediately began firing a semi-automatic rifle. Police said Danielle Aston, Raymond Green Vance, Kelly Loving, Ashley Paugh and Derrick Rump were killed in the attack and 17 others were injured.
Colorado Springs Police Chief Adrian Vasquez said earlier that “at least two heroic people” confronted and fought the shooter and “were able to prevent the suspect from killing and harming others.”
Mayor John Suthers said the protectors’ “actions clearly saved lives.”
The club announced last week that it plans to rebuild and reopen with enhanced security measures and a permanent tribute to those who died. Matthew Haynes, Club Q’s founding owner, said in a statement that he wanted to assure people that they are “working very hard to bring that back home to us.”
“We look forward to being able to gather as a community again,” he said.
The club’s management team said two of the victims were hired as employees and “will serve on an administrative basis, assisting management with rebuilding efforts, community relations and more.” The team said it plans to hire at least one more victim and distribute lost wages to former employees and contractors through a fundraising and a GoFundMe campaign.