DENVER, Feb 22 (Reuters) - The individual accused of fatally shooting five people inside a Colorado LGBTQ nightclub last year was due in court on Wednesday for a preliminary hearing in which a judge will decide whether there is enough evidence to try the suspect for murder.
Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, has been held without bond at the El Paso County jail since being arrested and has been charged with 323 criminal counts stemming from the Nov. 19 rampage at Club Q in Colorado Springs.
The shooting spree left five bar patrons dead and nearly two dozen others wounded by gunfire or otherwise injured.
Among the charges the defendant faces are first-degree murder, attempted murder, assault and bias-motivated crimes.
Clad in body armor and armed with a handgun and an AR-15-style assault rifle, Aldrich opened fire indiscriminately on club patrons, according to an arrest warrant affidavit.
Two men inside the bar with military training subdued Aldrich and held the suspect until police arrived, the affidavit said.
One of the men pistol-whipped Aldrich as others pummeled the accused assailant, leaving the suspect with multiple injuries that required hospitalization.
Prosecutors have not publicly revealed whether they have determined a motive for the shootings.
Aldrich's lawyers have asserted in court filings that their client identifies as "non-binary" in gender and prefers them/they pronouns.
At a previous court hearing, a defense lawyer intimated that Aldrich may have been in the club previously, including on the night of the massacre.
Even if Aldrich identifies as a member of a protected class, the defendant could still be found guilty of the hate crimes that have been charged in the case, District Attorney Michael Allen told reporters following an earlier hearing.
"We're not going to tolerate actions against community members based on their sexual identity," Allen said. "Members of that community have been harassed, intimidated and abused for too long."
El Paso County District Judge Michael McHenry was assigned to preside over the preliminary hearing, which was scheduled to run for three days, according to the court docket.
The hearing's purpose is for prosecutors to outline their case with the intention of persuading the judge there is enough evidence to establish probable cause for the charges and proceed to trial.
The Q nightclub shooting is not the defendant's first brush with the law. Aldrich was arrested in June 2021 after threatening to detonate a bomb and harm a family member, prosecutors said. That case was dismissed after the relatives who were the alleged victims declined to testify for the prosecution.
If convicted of first-degree murder, Aldrich faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Colorado no longer has capital punishment on its books, but Aldrich could face the death penalty if federal prosecutors decide to try him on federal charges that still carry a death sentence.