Planned Parenthood shooting suspect's mental competency questioned

Story highlights

  • Robert Dear tells judge he wants to defend himself
  • The judge orders Dear to undergo mental competency evaluation
  • Dear is accused of killing 3 people at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs

Colorado Springs, Colorado (CNN)The legal proceedings for Robert Lewis Dear, accused of killing three people at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs last month, could hinge on whether he is found mentally competent.

Dear appeared before an El Paso County judge for the second time Wednesday, with disheveled hair and a long white beard. He was handcuffed and shackled.
The status conference to determine how the case will move forward picked up where the last hearing left off, with an immediate outburst from the 57-year-old accused killer, who interrupted his public defender as he introduced the defense team.
    "But I do not want them as my lawyers. I invoke my constitutional right to defend myself," Dear said.
    Before Dear could say more, Chief Judge Gilbert Martinez warned him, "I'm going to let you say what you want to say, but I want you to know what you say here can be used against you."
    Planned Parenthood shooting suspect Robert L. Dear.
    Dear's most recent outburst came on the heels of multiple interruptions during his first court hearing on December 9, when Dear told the court, "I am a warrior for the babies" and "You'll never know what I saw in that clinic," suggesting a possible motive for the killings to which he admitted being responsible.
    "I am guilty. There is no trial," Dear said at his first court hearing.
    Public defender Daniel King, who also represented Aurora theater shooter James Holmes, urged the judge to slow the case because of questions about his client's competency.
    On Wednesday, the judge ordered a mental competency evaluation to help determine whether Dear is fit to waive his legal counsel and represent himself.

    Case could last years

    Dear's mental status is likely to be a focus of his entire legal defense and could delay the case significantly, according to CNN legal analyst Philip Holloway.
    "If Dear is deemed presently incompetent, he cannot, as he attempted to do at his initial appearance, plead guilty. Any plea of guilty must involve a knowing and voluntary waiver of many constitutional rights, including his right to a trial by jury," Holloway said.

    So what's next?

    The judge ordered Dear to be evaluated at the state mental hospital in Pueblo, Colorado, before the case can proceed. The prosecution told the court based on other recent cases the timeline could be six to nine months before the exam is completed.
    Dear indicated he would not cooperate with the mental evaluation.
    "I'm not going to say anything at that psychiatric evaluation," he told the judge. "I'm not going to say one word to them."
    "Even if court appointed doctors decide that he is competent, the defense is entitled to challenge that determination with experts of their own," said Holloway, which means the case could be delayed for months, even years, before going to trial.
    Dear faces 179 felony counts, including murder and attempted murder, in the shooting spree that left a police officer and two civilians dead and wounded 9 others. The incident locked down schools and hospitals for several hours on Black Friday.
    Planned Parenthood regained possession of the building last week after police completed their on-site investigation.
    "Seeing the building and walking through it was very emotional and we've spent the week processing it," said Vicki Cowart, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Rocky Mountains. "We're assessing the damage and have begun the hard work of cleanup and repair."

    Victims' family members in court

    About 20 family members of victims and survivors were in court Wednesday, including the widow of slain University of Colorado Colorado Springs police Officer Garrett Swasey. She sat stoically during Dear's outbursts.
    When the judge set the next hearing, a status conference, for February 24, 2016, Rachel Swasey nodded to indicate she would be there.
    District Attorney Dan May has not made a decision on whether to seek the death penalty against Dear. He has two months after Dear's arraignment to make that decision. No arraignment date has been set.