By Keith Coffman
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Reuters) - The man accused of shooting three people to death and wounding nine others at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado last month declared himself guilty and a "warrior for the babies" during an outburst in court on Wednesday.
The disturbance, as prosecutors formally presented murder and other charges against Robert Lewis Dear, 57, bolstered assertions by Planned Parenthood executives that the attack on the Colorado Springs clinic was motivated by anti-abortion sentiments.
Dear has been held without bond since surrendering to police at the end of a five-hour siege on Nov. 27 that authorities said began when he opened fire with a rifle in front of the clinic, then stormed inside.
It was the first deadly assault on a U.S. abortion provider since 2009. Three people, including a police officer, were killed and nine were wounded.
Dear's outburst took place at the start of his hearing in El Paso County court on Wednesday. He was not scheduled to formally enter a plea at the proceedings.
"I’m guilty, there’s no trial. I'm a warrior for the babies," Dear blurted out in a loud voice while seated beside his lawyers before the judge.
Addressing the judge, defense attorney Dan King raised the issue of Dear's mental competency to stand trial, saying, "I think the problem is obvious."
Among the 179 criminal counts brought in the case, prosecutors charged Dear on Wednesday with first-degree murder in the deaths of three people, as well as multiple counts of attempted murder and assault.
Police affidavits filed in the case have been placed under court seal, and authorities have not disclosed a motive for the shooting. However, several media outlets, citing law enforcement sources, have reported Dear uttered the phrase "no more baby parts" in statements to investigators following his arrest.
At one point, during a discussion in court about the sealing of documents in the case, Dear spoke out again.
"Seal the truth, huh? Kill the babies, that’s what Planned Parenthood does," Dear said.
The heavily bearded Dear, a native of South Carolina who once earned a living as a self-employed art salesman, appeared at Wednesday's hearing in shackles and turquoise-colored jail garb.
The judge imposed a gag order on attorneys and law enforcement in the case and set a hearing for Dec. 23, indicating Dear's competency may be discussed then.
The case follows renewed pressure from conservatives in Congress this year seeking to cut off federal funding for Planned Parenthood.
The lawmakers have cited a video circulated by anti-abortion activists who contend it shows Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of aborted fetal tissue. Planned Parenthood has denied the allegations and says the videos were produced to distort the issue of fetal-tissue donations made by the group for scientific research.
(Writing by Alex Dubuzinskis; Editing by Steve Gorman, Jeffrey Benkoe, Leslie Adler and Ken Wills)