Openly Gay Judge Gives Shooter in Deadly LGBTQ+ Club Attack Faces Multiple Life Sentences

On Tuesday, the shooter responsible for the attack on an LGBTQ+ club, killing 5 and wounding 19 in Colorado Springs, pleaded guilty to fifty federal hate crime charges. He refused to apologize or engage with the victims’ families.

Prosecutors emphasized the importance of holding Anderson Lee Aldrich accountable for the hateful motivations behind the attack. As part of the plea deal, Aldrich admitted to harboring significant animosity towards LGBTQ+ individuals.

Prosecutor Alison Connaughty stated, “The government and the community of Club Q value the admission that these were hate crimes.” She highlighted that Club Q was more than just a bar, describing it as “a special gathering place for anyone who needed that safe place and anyone who needed community.”

Aldrich, 24, who had previously pleaded guilty to state charges for the 2022 shooting and is serving a life sentence, faced federal prosecutors determined to prove the premeditation and bias driving the attack at Club Q, a haven for LGBTQ+ individuals in a predominantly conservative city.

U.S. District Judge Charlotte Sweeney, the first openly gay federal judge in Colorado, heard victim testimonies before considering the sentencing agreement. The agreement proposed 50 life sentences for the hate crimes, in addition to 190 years for gun charges and other counts, thus avoiding the death penalty.

Aldrich declined to speak at the sentencing. His lawyer, David Kraut, did not address the hate or bias in his remarks, instead citing various factors like drug use, access to guns, internet radicalism, and childhood trauma as contributing to Aldrich’s extreme violence.

In the state case, defense lawyers argued that Aldrich’s actions were influenced by cocaine and medication, not hate. Aldrich, in a previous jail interview, dismissed the notion that the attack was motivated by hate, despite eventually pleading no contest to state hate crime charges.

Evidence showed Aldrich spent nearly $9,000 on weapons-related items from at least 56 merchants between September 2020 and the attack. Investigators found a hand-drawn map of Club Q with entry and exit points marked, and a binder titled “How to handle an active shooter.”

Defense lawyers in the state case claimed Aldrich is nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns. However, this was disputed by some victims and the state court prosecuting attorney, who accused Aldrich of attempting to avoid hate crime charges.

Ashtin Gamblin, who worked the front door on the night of the attack and is recovering from nine gunshot wounds, asserted that a true member of the LGBTQ+ community would not harm its members. Speaking to the judge, Gamblin said, “We deserve to be safe and go in public and actually survive being in public.”

Gamblin’s mother recounted how her daughter shared an ambulance with the handcuffed shooter after the attack. Other victims, including a mother and daughter, expressed their preference for Aldrich to receive the death penalty.

Prosecutors stated that Aldrich visited the club multiple times before the attack, including a visit an hour and a half prior. Armed with an AR-15-style rifle and wearing a tactical vest with ballistic plates, Aldrich opened fire immediately upon returning just before midnight, killing the first person at the doorway and continuing to shoot patrons and bartenders.

Connaughty noted, “The defendant was able to level everyone,” adding that Aldrich fired 60 rounds in under a minute. “The defendant emptied the magazine. The defendant was prepared to inflict the maximum amount of damage in the minimum amount of time.”

Aldrich was convicted under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which expanded federal law in 2009 to include crimes motivated by sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. Following the hearing, Aldrich will be remanded to state prison.

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