DENVER — A mentally ill man charged with killing three people at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic in 2015 because it offered abortion services can be forcibly medicated to try to make him competent to stand trial, a federal judge ruled Monday.
The prosecution of Robert Lewis Dear, Jr., 64, has stalled because he has been repeatedly found mentally incompetent since his arrest and he has refused to take anti-psychotic medication for delusional disorder.
Dear faces 179 counts in state courts for the attack on the clinic, which injured five law enforcement officers along with claiming three lives during the course of a five-hour standoff.
U.S. District Judge Robert Blackburn ordered prosecutors to report back progress by Jan. 1, 2023.
He ordered Dear undergo "treatment in a suitable facility for such a reasonable period, not to exceed four months, to determine whether there is a substantial probability that in the foreseeable future the defendant will attain the capacity to permit the proceedings to go forward."
Blackburn also ordered hospital officials to closely monitor Dear throughout the treatment process, starting with lower doses then increasing.
"Throughout the implementation and use of the treatment plan, Mr. Dear shall be monitored carefully to assess his tolerance of any antipsychotic medication administered, his response to the medication, and the possible side effects of the medication," according to Blackburn's ruling.
During a three-day hearing in late August, prosecutors argued that medication had a substantial likelihood, based on research and the experience of government experts, to make Dear well enough to meet the legal standard for mental competency — being able to understand proceedings and assist in his defense.
Dear’s lawyers and experts, however, said the government’s plan did not take into account Dear’s age and his health problems, including untreated high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which could be worsened as a result of the medication’s side effects.
Dear, who has called himself a “warrior for the babies," intended to wage “war” against the clinic because it offered abortion services, arming himself with four semi-automatic rifles, five handguns, two other rifles, a shotgun, propane tanks and 500 rounds of ammunition, prosecutors have alleged. He began shooting outside the clinic before getting inside by shooting his way through a door, according to his federal indictment.
According to experts who testified and Dear’s lawyers, Dear has persecutory delusions that cause him to believe that the FBI is following him because he called a radio show in 1993 to criticize the agency over the law enforcement siege against the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas. He also believes his lawyers are working for the FBI and the judge is also in on the arrangement.
Dear mentioned the radio call in one of many outbursts during the recent hearing, where he also claimed the shooting was a “success” and told the judge to go to hell because he did not get to testify. He largely remained quiet after Blackburn warned him that he would not tolerate any more disturbances. The judge said he concluded the outbursts were not the result of Dear’s mental illness but of “selfish, childish and disaffected arrogance.”
After Dear’s prosecution bogged down in state court over the competency issue, Dear was charged in federal court in 2019 on 68 new counts under the 1994 Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act. Federal prosecutors have said they would not seek the death penalty against him if he is convicted, but life in prison instead.
Two of the people killed in the attack were accompanying friends to the clinic — Ke’Arre Stewart, 29, an Army veteran who served in Iraq and was a father of two, and Jennifer Markovsky, 36, a mother of two who grew up in Oahu, Hawaii. The third person killed was a University of Colorado at Colorado Sprngs campus police officer, Garrett Swasey, who responded to the clinic after hearing there was an active shooter.
Prosecutors proved the four things required in order for the forced medication to proceed, Blackburn ruled:
• 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.
Dr. Robert Sarrazin, a psychiatrist who works with the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, testified in the August hearing that he believed Dear would respond well to several anti-psychotic medications and could be competent for trial within four to six months of beginning the drugs, according to earlier Gazette reporting. Doctors have proposed a treatment plan involving paliperidone, aripiprazole, haloperidol and olanzapene.
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.
Editor's note: This story includes information from previous Gazette reporting.