A judge dismissed the 2021 kidnapping trial of the Colorado gay nightclub shooter, despite previously raising concerns that the defendant was storing weapons and explosives and planning a shootout, court transcripts from The Associated Press reveal on Friday.
Relatives, including grandparents, who claimed to have been kidnapped, had also told Judge Robin Chittum last August 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 like this terrible”. according to documents.
However, a hearing in July this year made no mention of the suspect’s violent behavior or mental health treatment status.
And Chittum, who late last year received a letter from relatives of Aldrich’s grandparents warning him that the suspect would certainly commit murder if released, granted a defense attorney’s motion to have the case dismissed because a court deadline loomed and the grandparents had stopped working together.
The revelation that Chittum viewed the accused as a potentially serious threat adds to well-known warnings from authorities about Aldrich’s increasingly violent behavior and raises further questions about whether the recent mass shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs could have been prevented.
Five people were killed and 17 injured in the November 19 attack. Aldrich was charged with 305 felonies last week, including hate crimes and murder. Aldrich’s public defender has declined to speak about the case and investigators have not revealed 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 during the hearings before Chittum, but said that while judges are normally supposed to be arbitrators, “judges are usually more aggressive in cases like this when the handwriting is on the wall.”
In many cases, Dershowitz said, prosecutors can go too far to get a conviction, but “this is where the legal system fails.”
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 the judge declined to comment.
“They clearly had something else planned,” Chittum Aldrich said during the August 2021 hearing after the defendant testified about an affinity for shooting firearms and a history of mental health problems.
“It had nothing to do with your grandma and grandpa. It was about salvaging all those guns and trying to make that bomb and making statements about other people involved in some kind of shooting and some kind of huge thing. And that’s how it happened,” the judge said.
Aldrich – whose defense attorneys say he is non-binary and she/she uses pronouns – spoke to Chittum in court that day about repeated abuse as a young child by her father and long-standing struggles with severe post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar disorder, the transcript shows .
(The vast majority of people with mental illness aren’t violent, studies show, and experts say most people who are violent don’t have mental illness. Additionally, nonbinary people and advocates caution against making assumptions about people with engage in non-traditional gender identities.)
Raised largely by his grandparents, Aldrich wanted to join the military as a teenager but decided that wasn’t going to happen, the transcripts reveal. The suspect described refusing to take medication and then “getting on track” after moving to Colorado, obtaining a medical marijuana license and starting college, the transcripts said.
“I’ve also been going to the (shooting range) as much as I could since I was 16,” Aldrich testified, the transcripts show. “My mom and I would go…sometimes several times a week and have fun shooting. This is an important pastime for me. Go to school, work and then relax at the shooting range.”
Aldrich said they went to Dragonman’s shooting range east of Colorado Springs, where the grimy driveway was lined with mannequins who looked bloody on Friday. Rusted vehicles parked nearby, some riddled with bullet holes. Two people who appeared to work at the shooting range said they did not know Aldrich and declined further comment.
Shooting at the range “was very therapeutic for me and a great way to spend my free time,” Aldrich told Chittum.
When Aldrich’s grandparents made plans to move to Florida, the suspect became despondent. Before confronting authorities in 2021, Aldrich began drinking alcohol and smoking heroin regularly, dropped out of school and stopped working, the transcript shows.
The charges in this case against Aldrich – who stockpiled explosives and allegedly spoke of plans to become the “next mass killer” before engaging in an armed confrontation with SWAT teams – were dropped during a four-minute hearing last July, at which the prosecution did not even argue to keep the case active.
Prosecution is the sole responsibility of the district attorney, said Ian Farrell, an associate professor at Denver University’s Sturm College of Law, noting that judges like Chittum have no authority to bring charges.
“With a deadline approaching for[Aldrich’s]trial to proceed and the prosecution clearly unwilling 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 made in bad faith, Farrell said. But the 2021 case didn’t seem to reach that bar, he said, because witnesses weren’t available in the case.
Howard Black, spokesman for the prosecutor’s office, said he could not release any information about the kidnapping case because it was part of the ongoing investigation. El Paso County District Attorney Michael Allen said his office has done everything it can to prosecute the case, including attempting to subpoena Aldrich’s mother, but has repeatedly refused to elaborate.
During the 2021 standoff, Aldrich reportedly told the terrified grandparents about guns and bomb-making supplies in the basement of the home they all shared. Aldrich vowed not to let the grandparents interfere with plans to “burst into flames.”
Aldrich livestreamed on Facebook a subsequent confrontation with SWAT teams at her mother Laura Voepel’s home, in which the defendant eventually surrendered, was arrested and weapons, ammunition and more than 100 pounds (45 kilograms) of explosives were seized.
The FBI had received a tip on Aldrich a day before the threat, but closed the case just weeks later without any federal charges being filed.
By August 2021, when Aldrich was released from prison, the grandparents described the suspect as a “cute young” person, according to the transcripts. At two subsequent hearings in the fall, defense attorneys described how Aldrich attended therapy and took medication, the transcripts show.
In a courtroom exchange in October 2021, Chittum urged Aldrich to “hang on with the drugs.”
“It sure is an adjustment period,” Aldrich replied, to which the judge replied, “Yes, it will sort itself out, don’t worry. Much luck.”
The case had been headed toward a plea agreement earlier this year but fell apart after family members ceased cooperation and prosecutors failed to serve a successful subpoena to testify Aldrich’s 69-year-old grandmother, Pamela Pullen, who was bedridden in Florida.
There is little discussion in the transcripts of prosecutors’ efforts to subpoena other potential witnesses — including Aldrich’s mother, grandfather, and a fourth person listed but not identified in court documents.
Though authorities missed some red flags about Aldrich’s capacity for violence, the opposite happened across the country in Minnesota this week, where a man who said he adored Aldrich was arrested after trying to buy grenades from an FBI whistleblower and to build an arsenal of automatic weapons for use against police, according to the indictment.
https://nypost.com/2022/12/17/judge-warned-in-2021-of-gay-bar-attackers-shootout-plans-of-colorado-gay-nightclub-shooter/ The judge warned of plans by an attacker at a gay bar against a gunman at a Colorado gay nightclub in 2021