Why accused Planned Parenthood shooter can't face trial just yet

Three people were killed and nine others wounded when a gunman stormed a Colorado Planned Parenthood in November. While victims' families are likely ready to move on with the trial, the defendant is not, a judge ruled Wednesday.

Andy Cross/Reuters/File
Robert Lewis Dear, accused of shooting three people to death and wounding nine others at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado, attended his hearing to face 179 counts of various criminal charges at an El Paso County court in Colorado Springs, Colo., in December.

A man accused of killing three people and wounding nine others in a shooting spree at a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic last year has been ruled mentally incompetent to stand trial.

The ruling Wednesday by El Paso County Judge Gilbert Martinez, which stalls proceedings, will likely anger some – not least the accused, Robert Lewis Dear, who left the courtroom yelling, labelling the judge "prejudiced" and a "filthy animal."

Yet others may view the development in a different light, acknowledging its demonstration of a judicial system that honors impartiality, enshrining the right to a fair trial, no matter how heinous the crime.

The declaration of incompetence by no means indicates the trial's end. Instead, Judge Martinez ordered a review of the defendant's mental state in 90 days, on Aug. 11, after a course of "restorative treatment" at a state mental hospital in Pueblo, Colo.

An examination of Mr. Dear's mental state was first deemed necessary by the judge in December, after the accused announced his desire to fire his public defenders and represent himself. After interviewing him, two psychologists declared him incompetent, suffering a delusive disorder that makes him believe the FBI is persecuting him.

For his part, Dear believes the ruling a grand plot to “silence him forever” and diminish the impact of his opposition to abortion, having previously declared himself a “warrior for the babies.”

Restoring Dear to competency could take many months, or longer, but the vast majority of defendants initially ruled incompetent do eventually return to the courtroom to face trial, once deemed capable of understanding the proceedings.

"In a case of this magnitude when a defendant is initially found incompetent to stand trial and is then restored to competency, there is a strong possibility that there will be a mental health defense," Steven Pitt, a forensic psychiatrist who has conducted competency exams but is not involved in Dear's case, told the Associated Press.

"It is an absolute certainty that the defendant's mental health history will be front and center during the penalty phase."

Prosecutors argued that Dear's courtroom outbursts proved his competency, but they have yet to decide whether they will seek the death penalty. Dear himself has not entered a plea.

During the assault on the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood center on Nov. 27, 2015, Dear precipitated a siege, holding police at bay for five hours, terrifying hundreds of shoppers at a nearby mall. A US Army veteran, a mother of two, and a police officer were killed and nine other people injured during the siege.

This report contains material from the Associated Press and Reuters.

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