Colorado Club Shooter Pleads Guilty to 50 Federal Hate Crimes

Colorado Club Shooter Pleads Guilty to 50 Federal Hate Crimes
Anderson Lee Aldrich (C) sits during a court appearance in Colorado Springs, Colo., on Dec. Nov. 6, 2022. (El Paso County District Court via AP)
The Associated Press
Updated:
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DENVER—The shooter who killed five people and injured 19 others at an LGBT club in the city of Colorado Springs pleaded guilty to federal hate crimes and was sentenced to 55 life terms in prison on Tuesday.

As part of a plea agreement, Anderson Lee Aldrich repeatedly admitted on Tuesday to evidence of hate.

Mr. Aldrich, 24, is already serving life in prison after pleading guilty to state charges last year. Federal prosecutors focused on proving that the Nov. 19, 2022, attack was premeditated and fueled by bias.

U.S. District Judge Charlotte Sweeney heard testimony from victims before accepting the agreement, which also includes a total of 190 years on gun-related charges.

Several of the survivors said they wanted the death penalty. However, Judge Sweeney explained that capital punishment had not been sought by prosecutors and would need to have been imposed by a jury. Instead, Judge Sweeney said the life sentences will mean no drawn-out appeals and no more hearings.

Mr. Aldrich, appearing in an orange prison uniform with head shaved and wrists handcuffed, faced the victims as they spoke but declined to make his own statement when given the chance. Defense attorney David Kraut made no explicit mention of hate or bias in his comments.

Mr. Kraut said there was no singular explanation for what motivated the shooting, but mentioned childhood trauma, an abusive mother, online extremism, drug use, and access to guns as factors that increased the risk his client would engage in extreme violence.

Defense attorneys in the state case had pushed back against hate charges, arguing Mr. Aldrich was drugged with cocaine and medication. In phone calls from jail with The Associated Press last year, Mr. Aldrich didn’t answer directly when asked whether the attack was motivated by hate, saying only, that’s “completely off base.” Mr. Aldrich previously pleaded no contest to state hate crime charges without admitting guilt.

Prosecutors said Mr. Aldrich spent over $9,000 on weapons-related purchases from dozens of vendors between September 2020 and the attack. A hand drawn map of Club Q with an entry and exit point marked was found inside Mr. Aldrich’s apartment, along with a black binder of training material entitled “How to handle an active shooter.”

Mr. Aldrich visited the club at least eight times before returning in a tactical vest and carrying a rifle, first killing a person in the entryway and then shooting at bartenders and customers before targeting people on the dance floor.

A Navy service member, Thomas James, grabbed the rifle barrel, burning his hand, and an Army veteran, Richard Fiero, helped subdue Mr. Aldrich. Mr. Aldrich then shot Mr. James in the torso with a handgun and a third person, identified in state court as Drea Norman, stepped in to help keep Mr. Aldrich on the ground, according to the plea agreement.

There had been a chance to prevent such violence: Mr. Aldrich was arrested in June 2021, accused of threatening his grandparents and vowing to become “the next mass killer ″ while stockpiling weapons, body armor, and bomb-making materials. But Mr. Aldrich’s mother and grandparents refused to cooperate, and prosecutors failed to serve subpoenas to family members that could have kept the case alive, so the charges were eventually dismissed.

Mr. Aldrich was sentenced Tuesday under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which expanded federal law in 2009 to include crimes motivated by sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.