Club Q shooting suspect can be charged with hate crime despite gender identity, experts say

Legal experts said prosecutors could still pursue hate crime charges against the person accused of killing five people inside a Colorado Springs nightclub even though the suspect was identified as non-binary.

Defense attorneys wrote in court documents Tuesday that the suspect, Anderson Lee Aldrich, identifies as non-binary. Although prosecutors have not yet filed formal charges, Aldrich is being held on suspicion of murder and felony offenses related to the shooting Saturday night at Club Q, considered a hub for the LGBT community in Colorado Springs.

Several attorneys and experts told the Denver Post that a person can be charged with a federal or state hate crime or bias-motivated crime even if they belong to the same community they are accused of targeting. A key factor, they said, was whether the prosecutors had evidence to suggest a bias towards that group, not necessarily the group the suspects claim to be a member of.

“It doesn’t really matter who they are — if they were motivated by who the victim is, that’s what counts,” said Doug Richards, a Denver defense attorney and former federal prosecutor.

Mitch Morrissey, who previously served as Denver’s attorney general, added, “I think if you can prove that the shooting was motivated by bias, the hate crime would apply and it wouldn’t matter what his particular situation was.”

The Club Q attack came minutes before the start of Transgender Memorial Day and amid a broader national surge in anti-LGBTQ rhetoric. The timing and location of the shooting prompted intense speculation about the suspect’s motive, along with calls for prosecutors to treat this act as a hate crime. Formal charges are expected to be filed in the coming weeks.

Law enforcement has yet to release any details about Aldrich’s alleged motive, including any evidence to support his arrest on bias-motivated charges.

There is pressure on prosecutors, said Jodi Shepherd, who founded the Matthew Shepherd Foundation after her son was killed in a homophobic attack. She said, like the others, that the preliminary facts of the case indicated that she was motivated by hate, but noted that the authorities had not disclosed evidence confirming this indication.

Much of Aldrich’s background remains a mystery four days after their arrest, and relatives uniformly avoid speaking to the press. But Aldrich’s estranged father, Aaron Brink, told a California television station on Wednesday that Brink opposed homosexuality and made those feelings clear to Aldrich. Brink said he had had limited contact with Aldrich over the past decade, to the point where he believed Aldrich had been dead for several years.

Aldrich changed their name in 2016 to distance himself from Brink and his criminal history, according to Texas court records.

Shortly after Aldrich appeared in court on Wednesday, Fourth District Attorney Michael Allen said in a news conference that the suspect’s gender identity would not affect the indictment.

He said, “I am looking for evidence, evidence of what happened here.” “That’s what we look at when we make scoring decisions.”

Legal experts told The Post that evidence could be presented in court about Aldrich’s identity. If prosecutors seek bias-motivated charges, Morrissey said, they can also provide other evidence — such as social media posts — that may not be allowed to appear in court but will support allegations of specific bias.

“I don’t know if that was a stunt or not,” Morrissey said. “Obviously some evidence would be needed one way or the other as to what his orientation was, but just because you have the same orientation doesn’t mean you can’t take sides against the group. And (the LGBTQ community) is a very, very broad group.”

Boulder County District Attorney Michael Dougherty said he was aware of cases where a protected class person committed “hate-based” acts against a group of which they claimed membership. Speaking generally of hate crimes and prejudice, Daugherty said a recent change in Colorado law means that prosecutors must prove that a person accused of crimes motivated by prejudice was only partially motivated by that bias or hate.

In any hate crime case, in general, investigators and prosecutors look at the individual’s social media posts, digital evidence, as well as statements by friends, family, and colleagues in the days, weeks, and months leading up to the incident, as well as anything said during the attack, or to witnesses or law enforcement after the attack occurred,” Dougherty said.

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