After weighing three days of testimony from dueling experts on whether Robert Lewis Dear should be forcibly medicated to make him competent to stand trial on murder charges, Senior Judge Robert Blackburn said he would take the matter under advisement and issue a ruling “as soon as practicable.”
Dear, 64, faces 179 counts in state courts for the Nov. 27, 2015 attack on the clinic, which claimed the lives of three and injured five others. Ke'Arre Stewart, Jennifer Markovsky and University of Colorado Colorado Springs police Officer Garrett Swasey died at the women's clinic. Five other people — five of them law enforcement officers — were wounded during the course of a five-hour standoff.
In 2019, a federal grand jury indicted him on 68 new counts in a bid to get Dear to trial after years of him being ruled incompetent to stand trial.
Prosecutors must prove four things in order to get a judge to involuntarily force medications on a defendant:
• The government must have a substantial interest.
• “That involuntary medication will significantly further the government interests, which requires the court to find was that the use of these antipsychotic medications as set forth in the treatment is substantially likely to render Mr. Dear competent to stand trail,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Pegeen Rhyne.
• That no other alternative medications or methods of treating the competency issues will be effective.
• That it’s in the defendant’s best medical interests.
The lesser intrusive methods have certainly not worked, Rhyne said in her closing arguments.
“Mr. Dear has clearly established entrenched opposition to these medications, showing that that is not a viable option, particularly when we consider the lack of respect that he has shown for the Court's authority,” Rhyne said.
Dr. Robert Sarrazin, a psychiatrist who works with the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, testified Tuesday that he believes Dear would respond well to several anti-psychotic medications and could be competent for trial within four to six months of beginning the drugs. Doctors have proposed a treatment plan involving paliperidone, aripiprazole, haloperidol and olanzapene.
But defense attorneys presented expert witnesses who testified Dear might suffer serious side effects from the medications, especially considering his age. They also picked apart studies the prosecution submitted showing the effectiveness of these medications on delusional disorder, which Dear has been diagnosed with.
“I submit that the court should not strip him of all medical agency. Over the last three days, the defense experts testified that the plan was not substantially likely to render Mr. Dear competent, nor is it medically appropriate or in his best medical interests,” said Deputy U.S. Public Defender Natalie Stricklin. “And I’m not asking the court to take my word for it. There isn't clear and convincing evidence here. I'm asking the court to rely on very experienced experts who, unlike the government, engaged in a truly individualized analysis for Mr. Dear.”
But Rhyne pointed out that at least two of the defense experts never even examined Dear, and instead used case reports. She argued the defense experts’ opinions were biased. Through the hearing, they showed at least two of the three experts had been hired by defense attorneys for the vast majority of the cases they testified in.
For example, Dear claimed the anti-psychotic medication he was prescribed in 2018 gave him a heart attack, and has refused any drugs since, including for his hypertension.
But a cardiologist hired by prosecutors testified that he believes Dear could safely take them despite his hypertension. Dr. Matthew Holland said Wednesday morning that he did not see evidence Dear has had a heart attack from reviewing his medical records, and said his medical history is fairly typical.
Dr. George Woods, a physician specializing in neuropsychiatry, testified for the defense the side effects Dear could suffer could include heart attack, for a man of his age.
“Taking the opinion of a psychiatrist over a cardiologist about cardiac issues is simply not good medicine,” Rhyne told the judge.
Dear could face three life sentences if convicted.
A review hearing in a Colorado Springs court for Dear’s state charges got pushed from August to Sept. 30 to allow for Judge Blackburn’s ruling.