Shooter who killed 5 at a Colorado LGBTQ+ club set to plead guilty to federal hate crimes

DENVER — Anderson Lee Aldrich, who five people killed and injured 19 others at an LGBTQ+ nightclub in Colorado Springs, is prepared to plead guilty Tuesday to federal hate crime and gun charges, following new evidence of anti-gay statements and gun purchases before the mass shooting.

Aldrich, now 24, is already serving a life sentence plead guilty to file a tax return last year. Aldrich also pleaded no contest to hate crimes in that case. Federal prosecutors have focused on proving that the attack on Club Q – a shrine for LGBTQ+ people in the predominantly conservative city – was premeditated and fueled by prejudice.

The sentencing agreement between the prosecution and defense would allow Aldrich to avoid the death penalty in exchange for pleading guilty to 50 hate crime and weapons charges, and instead receive multiple life sentences in addition to a 190-year sentence. U.S. District Judge Charlotte Sweeney, the first openly gay federal judge in Colorado, will decide whether to accept the proposal.

Less than a month before the shooting, Aldrich coordinated a spam email campaign against a former work supervisor who is gay, according to recent lawsuits from prosecutors. They also accuse Aldrich of spreading someone else’s manifesto, which contained racist and anti-Semitic statements and falsely claimed that being transgender is a mental illness.

Aldrich spent more than $9,000 on gun-related purchases from at least 56 vendors between September 2020 and the attack on November 19, 2022, according to new evidence cited by prosecutors.

Investigators discovered that a hand-drawn map of Club Q with an entry and exit point marked was found in Aldrich’s apartment. This evidence was also presented to the court. Also included was a black folder of training materials titled “How to Deal with an Active Shooter.”

Lawyers in the state case, who said their client is non-binary and uses they/their pronouns, argued that Aldrich was drugged on cocaine and prescription drugs at the time.

In a series of phone calls from prison to The Associated Press last year, Aldrich did not directly answer a question about whether the attack was motivated by hate. He said only that this is “completely off base.” Aldrich did not disclose a motivation to the AP or in state court and declined to speak during that sentencing.

That Aldrich is non-binary is a claim rejected by both some victims and the prosecutor who prosecuted Aldrich in state court, who calls it an attempt to avoid hate crime charges.

Among them is Ashtin Gamblin, who was working the front door that night and is still in physical therapy after being shot nine times. A true member of the LGBTQ+ community would know about the discrimination and mental health challenges they face and would not attack its members in such a sanctuary, she said.

“To get to the only safe place where you can do that, you’re not part of the community. You just wanted the community gone,” Gamblin said. She is among the survivors expected to speak at the hearing about the impact of the attack on their lives.

Prosecutors say Aldrich visited the club at least eight times before the attack, including stopping by an hour and a half before the shooting. Just before midnight, Aldrich returned, wearing a tactical vest with ballistic plates and carrying an AR-15-style rifle, and immediately began shooting. Aldrich killed the first person in the hall, shot at bartenders and customers at the bar and then walked onto the dance floor, pausing to reload the gun’s magazine.

The shooting was stopped by a Navy officer who grabbed the barrel of the suspect’s gun and burned his hand, and an Army veteran who helped subdue Aldrich until police arrived, authorities said.

There had been a chance to prevent such violence: Aldrich was arrested in June 2021, accused of threatening their grandparents and vowing to become “the next mass murderer.” ″while they were stockpiling weapons, body armor, and bomb-making materials. But Aldrich’s mother and grandparents refused to cooperateand prosecutors failed to issue subpoenas to family members who could have kept the case alive the charges were ultimately dismissed.

A felony conviction in the case would have prevented Aldrich from legally purchasing more firearms. But District Attorney Michael Allen pointed out that most of the gun parts used in the shooting were untraceable ghost gun parts that Aldrich did not have to undergo a background check to obtain. Two guns seized by Aldrich in the 2021 case were still in the hands of the sheriff’s office at the time of the Club Q shooting, he said.

Justifying the proposed sentence, prosecutors wrote: “The horrors experienced by the victims and survivors at the hands of the defendant cannot be overstated. The victims and survivors, celebrating Transgender Day of Remembrance, were attacked when they least suspected it by someone who had been in their presence just hours earlier.”

Aldrich, who will be returned to state prison after the hearing, will be sentenced federally on the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. charges. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which expanded the federal law in 2009 to include crimes motivated by sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.

Gamblin wanted the death penalty in recognition of how many lives were damaged. She said some friends no longer want to go to events and others struggle to hold down jobs that require working with the public.

“We want nothing more than to get back to normal, but we know that’s not going to happen,” she said.