DENVER, Feb 23 (Reuters) - A Colorado judge on Thursday ordered the suspect accused of fatally shooting five people and injuring dozens of others at an LGBTQ nightclub last year to stand trial on 323 counts stemming from the massacre, including murder and hate-crime charges.
Prosecutors presented sufficient evidence to proceed with their case against Anderson Lee Aldrich on all charges filed in the Nov. 19 shooting rampage at Club Q club in Colorado Springs, the El Paso County district judge ruled.
Judge Michael McHenry also ordered Aldrich to remain jailed without bond.
Besides multiple counts of first-degree murder, Aldrich faces dozens of counts of attempted murder and assault, as well as hate-crimes charges alleging the attack was motivated by prejudice against victims' sexual or gender identities.
A first-degree murder conviction carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole. Colorado no longer has a death penalty statute on its books.
Handcuffed and clad in orange jail garb, Aldrich, 22, did not speak during Thursday's 50-minute hearing. The defendant is due to enter a plea on May 30.
Thursday's ruling capped a two-day preliminary hearing in which prosecutors outlined their case for trying Aldrich on all charges.
Aldrich often used homophobic slurs, prosecutors said, and once posted a photo on social media of a rifle scope aimed at a gay rights parade.
Colorado Springs police detective Jason Gasper testified that a search of Aldrich’s apartment uncovered shooting targets riddled with bullet holes, with one target featuring rainbow-colored concentric circles - a design reminiscent of rainbow-striped gay pride flags - surrounding the bullseye.
A hand-sketched map of Club Q was also found in a search of the defendant's home, Gasper said.
In arguing unsuccessfully that hate-crime charges should not apply, defense lawyer Joseph Archambault said his client had frequented the club at least half a dozen times and identifies as being gender "non-binary." The defense also has said that Aldrich prefers "them" and "they" pronouns.
Hours after the shooting, a sobbing Aldrich told a deputy sheriff: “I really fucked up ... I killed all those fucking people,” a statement reflecting remorse, even if it also could be taken as an admission of guilt, Archambault said.
Archambault also said his client had prescriptions for medications to treat depression, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress and bipolar disorder, as well as a drug to battle opioid addiction, a disclosure indicating Aldrich's lawyers may be considering a defense based on mental health grounds.
Aldrich stands accused of walking into the nightclub clad in body armor with a handgun and an AR-15-style rifle and opening fire indiscriminately on those present.
Two patrons with military training subdued Aldrich and held the suspect until police arrived, according to the arrest warrant affidavit.