Judge warned in 2021 of gay bar attacker’s shootout plans

Dec 15, 2022, 7:06 PM | Updated: Dec 16, 2022, 3:47 pm
In this image taken from El Paso County District Court video, Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, center, sit...

In this image taken from El Paso County District Court video, Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, center, sits during a court appearance in Colorado Springs, Colo., Tuesday, Dec. Nov. 6, 2022. Aldrich, the suspect accused of entering a Colorado gay nightclub clad in body armor and opening fire with an AR-15-style rifle, killing five people and wounding 17 others, was charged by prosecutors Tuesday with 305 criminal counts including hate crimes and murder. (El Paso County District Court via AP)

(El Paso County District Court via AP)

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — A judge dismissed the 2021 kidnapping case against the Colorado gay nightclub shooter even though she had previously raised concerns about the defendant stockpiling weapons and explosives and planning a shootout, court transcripts obtained Friday by The Associated Press reveal.

Relatives, including the grandparents who claimed to have been kidnapped, had also told Judge Robin Chittum in August last year about Anderson Aldrich’s struggles with mental illness during a hearing at which the judge said Aldrich needed treatment or “it’s going to be so bad,” according to the documents.

Yet no mention was made during a hearing this July of the suspect’s violent behavior or the status of any mental health treatment.

And Chittum, who had received a letter late last year from relatives of Aldrich’s grandparents warning the suspect was certain to commit murder if freed, granted a defense attorney’s motion to dismiss the case as a trial deadline loomed and the grandparents had stopped cooperating.

The revelation that Chittum regarded the defendant as a potentially serious threat adds to the advance warnings authorities are known to have had about Aldrich’s increasingly violent behavior and it raises more questions about whether the recent mass shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs could have been prevented.

Five people were killed and 17 wounded in the Nov. 19 attack. Aldrich was charged last week with 305 criminal counts, including hate crimes and murder. Aldrich’s public defender has declined to talk about the case, and investigators have not released a motive.

Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz said transcripts of court hearings in the case confirmed his view that “more could have been done to prevent the violence.”

Dershowitz acknowledged that he didn’t know every detail in front of Chittum during the hearings but said that while judges are typically supposed to be umpires, “judges are usually more aggressive in cases like this, when the handwriting is on the wall.”

In many cases, Dershowitz said, prosecutors can overreach to get a conviction, but “here, you have the legal system failing.”

Chittum’s comments in Aldrich’s kidnapping case had previously been under a court seal that was lifted last week at the request of prosecutors and news organizations including the AP. Chittum’s assistant, Chad Dees, said Friday that the judge declined to comment.

“You clearly have been planning for something else,” Chittum told Aldrich during the August 2021 hearing, after the defendant testified about an affinity for shooting firearms and a history of mental health problems.

“It didn’t have to do with your grandma and grandpa. It was saving all these firearms and trying to make this bomb, and making statements about other people being involved in some sort of shootout and a huge thing. And then that’s kind of what it turned into,” the judge said.

Aldrich — whose defense lawyers say is nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns — spoke to Chittum in court that day about repeated abuse as a young child by their father and longtime struggles with severe post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar disorder, the transcript shows.

(The vast majority of people with mental illnesses are not violent, studies show, and experts say most people who are violent do not have mental illnesses. Additionally, nonbinary people and advocates warn against making assumptions about people with nontraditional gender identities.)

Aldrich, who was largely raised by their grandparents, wanted to join the military as a teenager but decided it wasn’t going to happen, the transcripts show. The suspect described refusing to take medications and then “getting on track” after moving to Colorado, obtaining a medical marijuana license and starting college, according to the transcripts.

“I also went to the (shooting range) as often as I could since the age of 16,” Aldrich testified, the transcripts show. “My mom and I would go … sometimes multiple times a week and have fun shooting. This is a major pastime for me. Going to school, working and then relaxing at the shooting range.”

Aldrich said they went to Dragonman’s shooting range east of Colorado Springs, where the dirt driveway was lined by mannequins that looked bloodied Friday. Nearby were rusted vehicles, some peppered in bullet holes. Two people who appeared to work at the range said they did not know Aldrich and declined further comment.

Shooting at the range “was highly therapeutic for me, and was a great way to spend spare time,” Aldrich told Chittum.

When Aldrich’s grandparents made plans to move to Florida, the suspect became despondent. Leading up to the 2021 confrontation with authorities, Aldrich started drinking liquor regularly and smoking heroin, dropped out of school and quit working, the transcript shows.

The charges in that case against Aldrich — who had stockpiled explosives and allegedly spoke of plans to become the “next mass killer” before engaging in an armed standoff with SWAT teams — were thrown out during a four-minute hearing this past July at which the prosecution didn’t even argue to keep the case active.

The prosecution was the responsibility solely of the district attorney, said Ian Farrell, associate professor at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, noting that judges like Chittum have no power to force charges.

“Since a deadline for proceeding with (Aldrich’s) trial was coming up and the prosecution clearly was not ready to proceed … the trial judge had no choice but to dismiss the case,” Farrell said.

Judges can appoint special prosecutors in extreme situations, such as when a decision not to prosecute is done in bad faith, Farrell said. But the 2021 case did not appear to rise to that bar, he said, because witnesses in the case were unavailable.

Howard Black, spokesperson for the district attorney’s office, has said he cannot share information about the kidnapping case because it’s part of the current investigation. El Paso County District Attorney Michael Allen has said his office did everything it could to prosecute the case, including trying to subpoena Aldrich’s mother, but has repeatedly declined to elaborate.

During the 2021 standoff, Aldrich allegedly told the frightened grandparents about firearms and bomb-making material in the basement of the home they all shared. Aldrich vowed not to let the grandparents interfere with plans to “go out in a blaze.”

Aldrich livestreamed on Facebook a subsequent confrontation with SWAT teams at the house of their mother, Laura Voepel, where the defendant eventually surrendered, was arrested and had weapons, ammunition and more than 100 pounds (45 kilograms) of explosive materials seized.

The FBI had received a tip on Aldrich a day before the threat but closed out the case just weeks later with no federal charges filed.

By August 2021, when Aldrich bonded out of jail, the grandparents were describing the suspect as a “sweet young” person, according to the transcripts. At two subsequent hearings that fall, defense attorneys described how Aldrich was attending therapy and was on medications, the transcripts show.

In an October 2021 courtroom exchange, Chittum told Aldrich to “hang in there with the meds.”

“It’s an adjustment period for sure,” Aldrich replied, to which the judge replied, “Yeah it will settle, don’t worry. Good luck.”

The case had been headed toward a plea agreement early this year but fell apart after family members stopped cooperating and prosecutors failed to successfully serve a subpoena to testify to Aldrich’s 69-year-old grandmother Pamela Pullen, who was bedridden in Florida.

There is scant discussion in the transcripts of efforts by prosecutors to subpoena other potential witnesses — including Aldrich’s mother, grandfather and a fourth person who is listed in court documents but not identified.

Although authorities missed some warning signs about Aldrich’s capability for violence, the opposite happened across the country in Minnesota this week, where a man who said he idolized Aldrich was arrested after trying to buy grenades from an FBI informant and building an arsenal of automatic weapons to use against police, according to charges.

___

Brown reported from Billings, Montana.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE - The Activision Blizzard Booth during the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, June ...
Associated Press

UK watchdog says Microsoft’s Activision deal hurts gamers

LONDON (AP) — Microsoft’s stalled $68.7 billion deal to buy video game company Activision Blizzard has hit a fresh hurdle in the United Kingdom, where the antitrust watchdog said Wednesday that it will stifle competition and hurt gamers. Britain’s Competition and Markets Authority said its in-depth investigation found that the deal could strengthen Microsoft’s position […]
1 day ago
Volunteers distribute aid to people in Antakya, southern Turkey, Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023. Thinly st...
Associated Press

Live Updates | Turkey, Syria quake is deadliest in decade

The catastrophic earthquake that razed thousands of buildings in Turkey and Syria became one of the deadliest quakes worldwide in more than a decade Wednesday and the death toll kept rising, surpassing 11,000. Rescue crews braved freezing overnight temperatures in quake-hit areas in both countries in hopes of reaching more survivors and to pull more […]
1 day ago
A U.S. Air Force installation surrounded by farmland in central Montana is seen on Feb. 7, 2023, ne...
Associated Press

US, states weigh farmland restrictions after Chinese balloon

HARLOWTON, Mont. (AP) — Near the banks of Montana’s Musselshell River, cattle rancher Michael Miller saw a large, white orb above the town of Harlowton last week, a day before U.S. officials revealed they were tracking a suspected Chinese spy balloon over the state. The balloon caused a stir in the 900-person town surrounded by […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Russia seeks lengthy prison term for ex-governor

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian authorities on Wednesday requested a lengthy prison term for a former regional governor who is standing trial on murder charges and whose arrest two years ago prompted weeks-long mass protests. The prosecutor has asked a court in the Moscow region to sentence Sergei Furgal, former governor of Russia’s far eastern Khabarovsk […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

How fresh tax credits, rebates can launch eco home updates

If you’ve been holding off on home improvements, a new law signed last year and now in effect as of Jan. 1, 2023, may provide a fresh incentive. The Inflation Reduction Act, or IRA, includes tax credits and rebates for homeowners who make energy-saving updates to their homes. Credits for improvements like new solar panels, […]
1 day ago
This undated photo provided by Edmunds shows their top rated car, SUV, truck and an electric versio...
Associated Press

Edmunds: Car shopping trends and tips for 2023

Shopping for a new or used car over the last few years has become a frustrating and expensive undertaking. Car shoppers have had to deal with vehicle shortages, high prices, dwindling incentives and rising interest rates. Will 2023 bring any relief? Yes and no. “Many buyers exited the market due to inventory issues or pricing […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.
SHIBA WA...

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Judge warned in 2021 of gay bar attacker’s shootout plans