DENVER (AP) — The shooter who killed five people and endangered the lives of over 40 others at an LGBTQ+ nightclub in Colorado Springs plans to plead guilty to new federal charges for hate crimes and firearm violations under an agreement that would allow the defendant to avoid the death penalty, according to court documents made public Tuesday.
Anderson Aldrich, 23, made a deal with prosecutors to plead guilty to 50 hate crime charges and 24 firearm violations, the documents show. Aldrich would get multiple life sentences in addition to a 190-year sentence under the proposed agreement, which needs a judge’s approval.
The Jan. 9 plea agreement was unsealed by the court after Aldrich had pleaded not guilty in court during an initial appearance on Tuesday afternoon. The gun charges can carry a maximum penalty of death, according to the agreement.
Aldrich was sentenced to life in prison last June after pleading guilty to state charges of murder and 46 counts of attempted murder — one for each person at Club Q during the attack on Nov. 19, 2022.
Word of the new charges and planned agreement come just days after federal prosecutors revealed they would seek the death penalty in another hate crime case — against a white supremacist who killed 10 Black people at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York. The decision doesn't change Attorney General Merrick Garland's moratorium to halt federal executions, but opens a new chapter in the long and complicated history of the death penalty in the U.S.
Ashtin Gamblin, who was shot nine times and seriously wounded at Club Q, was in court for Tuesday's hearing. She called the shooting a hate crime and said that Aldrich should be labeled as someone who carried one out.
Gamblin also said she told federal prosecutors Aldrich should face the death penalty for what they did, even if the punishment is never carried out.
She said she wanted Aldrich to “sit with the thought of not knowing when” they would die or that they could die at “any day or any time.”
Aldrich, who is nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns, also pleaded no contest to state charges for hate crimes under a plea agreement. The plea was an acknowledgment there was a good chance Aldrich would be convicted of those crimes without admitting guilt. The pleas carried the same weight as a conviction.
For Tuesday's hearing, Aldrich appeared by video from an undisclosed location and was represented by David Kraut with the federal public defender’s office. Telephone and email messages left with Kraut’s office were not immediately returned.
Jeff Aston, whose son Daniel Aston was shot and killed in the attack, listened remotely to the hearing.
This was a hateful, stupid, heinous and cowardly act,” Aston said, adding that he’d like to see Aldrich suffer as much as the victims and their family members
After the shooting, Daniel Aston's parents said they found Club Q to be a safe place to be a trans man and a drag queen.
Michael Anderson, who was bartending at Club Q when the shooting erupted, said the federal charges would serve as a deterrent by “sending a message to people who want to commit violent acts against this community, and lets them know this is not something that is swept away or overlooked.”
“No matter how much justice is served statewide or federally, it can’t undo bullets fired,” he said.
At the time of Aldrich’s sentencing in state court, Colorado Springs area District Attorney Michael Allen said the possibility of receiving the death penalty in the federal system was a “big part of what motivated the defendant” to plead guilty to the state charges.
Aldrich declined to speak at the sentencing hearing in state court, and haven't said why they hung out at the club, then went outside and returned dressed in body armor. Aldrich began firing an AR-15-style rifle as soon as they came back in.
Prosecutors say Aldrich had visited the club at least six times before that night and that Aldrich’s mother had forced them to go.
In a series of telephone calls from jail, Aldrich told The Associated Press they were on a “very large plethora of drugs” and abusing steroids at the time of the attack. When asked whether the attack was motivated by hate, Aldrich said that was “completely off base.”
The district attorney called those statements self-serving and characterized the assertion as ringing hollow. He said Aldrich’s claim of being nonbinary is part of an effort to avoid hate crime charges, saying there was no evidence of Aldrich identifying as nonbinary before the shooting.
During hearings in the state case in February, prosecutors said Aldrich administered a website that posted a “neo-Nazi white supremacist” shooting training video. A police detective also testified that online gaming friends said Aldrich expressed hatred for the police, LBGTQ+ people and minorities, and used racist and homophobic slurs. One said that Aldrich sent an online message with a photo of a rifle trained on a gay pride parade.
The attack shattered the sense of safety at Club Q, which served as a refuge for the city’s LGBTQ+ community. The shooting was stopped by a Navy officer who grabbed the barrel of the suspect’s rifle, burning his hand, and an Army veteran helped subdue and beat Aldrich until police arrived, authorities said.
The 2022 attack came more than a year after Aldrich was arrested for threatening their grandparents and vowing to become “the next mass killer ″ while stockpiling weapons, body armor and bomb-making materials.
Last year Aldrich was moved to the Wyoming State Penitentiary due to safety concerns about the high-profile case, according to Alondra Gonzalez, spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Corrections. ___
Associated Press writers Jesse Bedayn contributed from Denver and Matthew Brown contributed from Billings, Montana.