Shooter in Colorado LGBTQ+ nightclub attack pleads guilty, gets life in prison
PHOTO CAPTION: A black-and-white overhead view of the suspect Anderson Lee Aldrich firing a weapon into the LGBTQ nightclub Club Q in Colorado Springs, Colorado, U.S., November 19, 2022, in footage captured by a surveillance camera and released by prosecutors in El Paso County, Colorado, to support the evidence they presented during a preliminary hearing held for Aldrich, who is accused of fatally shooting five people inside the nightclub. Police/Handout via REUTERS
By Joseph Ax and Rami Ayyub
(Reuters) - A 23-year-old was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole after pleading guilty on Monday to killing five people in a 2022 mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Anderson Lee Aldrich pleaded guilty in Colorado state court to five first-degree murder counts and 46 attempted murder counts, part of an agreement reached with prosecutors that avoided what could have been a lengthy trial. Aldrich also pleaded no contest to two counts of bias-motivated crimes.
On Nov. 19, 2022, Aldrich, wearing body armor and armed with a rifle and a handgun, opened fire at Club Q, an LGBTQ nightclub. Apart from those killed, nearly two dozen others were wounded by gunfire or otherwise injured before being stopped by "heroic" patrons. Aldrich, then 22, was charged with 323 criminal counts.
During the sentencing hearing immediately following the plea, family members of the victims spoke tearfully about their loved ones and expressed fury at Aldrich. Several survivors, some of whom suffered gunshot wounds, described the horrors of that chaotic night.
"I will never get the chance to marry the love of my life," said Kassandra Fierro, whose boyfriend, Raymond Green Vance, was among the dead. "I will never get to start a family with Raymond. I will never get to see, hear or feel Raymond ever again."
Others, noting that Club Q had long been a "safe space" for LGBTQ residents, said the shooting had shattered their tight-knit community.
Aldrich, who told the court they identify as nonbinary, declined to speak during the sentencing, but their defense lawyer, Joseph Archambault, said Aldrich wanted the court to know that "they are deeply remorseful."
In accordance with the plea deal, Judge Michael McHenry sentenced Aldrich to five consecutive life sentences for the murder charges, plus more than 2,200 years of additional prison time for the attempted murder counts.
"Your actions reflect the deepest malice of the human heart," the judge said. "And malice is almost always born of ignorance and fear."
The shooting at Club Q was reminiscent of a massacre in 2016 when a gunman killed 49 people at the gay Pulsenightclub in Orlando, Florida, before he was shot dead by police.
Colorado no longer has a death-penalty statute. However, Aldrich could face a death sentence in federal court if prosecutors decide to bring charges under the U.S. code, which still has capital punishment on its books for certain crimes.
Aldrich was formally charged last Dec. 6 and did not enter a plea at the time.
Those killed in the shooting were identified as Daniel Aston, 28; Kelly Loving, 40; Derrick Rump, 38; Ashley Paugh, 34; and Vance, 22.
Aldrich was known to law enforcement, having been arrested in June 2021. Aldrich's mother had reported that Aldrich had threatened to detonate a bomb and harm her with multiple weapons, according to a press release from the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office. Aldrich's mother declined to testify for the prosecution, and the case was dismissed.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax in Princeton, New Jersey, and Rami Ayyub in Washington; Additional reporting and writing by Rich McKay; Editing by Grant McCool and Matthew Lewis)