DENVER (AP) — The man who launched a deadly attack on a Planned Parenthood clinic could push a Colorado court into a tricky decision: Was it was an act of political zealotry or mental illness?
In only his second court appearance, Robert Lewis Dear clashed openly with defense attorney Daniel King on Wednesday, bluntly declaring his reasons for the shootings — "I'm a warrior for the babies!" — even as King suggested Dear might need a psychiatric evaluation.
Dear flatly rejected a mental exam, calling it an excuse to silence him with psychotropic drugs.
"He may have political reasons that he wants to go to trial and he wants to be found guilty," said Nancy Leong, a University of Denver law professor.
If Dear is found mentally competent, "we can't take away his ability to make those decisions, even if his lawyers or most lawyers think that's a misguided thing to do," she said.
Dear is charged with 179 counts of first-degree murder, attempted murder and other crimes. Prosecutors say he killed three people and injured nine at the Colorado Springs clinic on the day after Thanksgiving.
"I'm guilty," he blurted out at this week's hearing, although he hasn't formally entered a plea.
Dear left no doubt he wants to trumpet his beliefs. When King asked the judge to seal the case records to avoid pretrial publicity, Dear said: "Seal the truth, huh? Kill the babies. That's what Planned Parenthood does."
Later, he said: "Planned Parenthood and my lawyer are in cahoots to shut me up. They don't want the truth out."
King asked investigators to turn over evidence so the defense team can assess the "depth of his mental illness."
"I think the problem is obvious, your honor," King said amid Dear's repeated, rambling interruptions.
King suggested he might ask for Dear to undergo an evaluation to determine if he's mentally competent to stand trial — whether he's capable of assisting in his defense.
Like other states, Colorado allows a judge to order such evaluations, even if the defendant objects. If Dear is found incompetent, all court proceedings would stop while he undergoes treatment designed to restore his competency.
The conflict between Dear and his lawyer echoes a handful of other notorious cases.
Unabomber Ted Kaczynski objected to his defense attorney's effort to have him declared insane, arguing he had a legitimate political reason to kill technologists and others. Army Maj. Nidal Hassan fired several military lawyers as he attempted, unsuccessfully, to argue in court that his 2010 attack on Fort Hood that killed 13 people was a legitimate response to military action in Iraq and Afghanistan.
If tried and convicted, Dear would have the right to explain himself at his sentencing hearing.
"The defendant can pretty much say what they want to say," said Dan Recht, a longtime Denver defense lawyer. "They can't use vulgarity, they can't talk for 20 hours, but within broad limits, they can say pretty much what they want to say before sentence is imposed."
Scott Roeder, convicted of murder in the 2009 shooting death of Kansas abortion doctor George Tiller, delivered a long and graphic denunciation of abortion during his sentencing hearing.
"I stopped him so he could not dismember another innocent baby," Roeder said.
Defending a suspect who wants to make a political statement regardless of the consequences is tough, said Mark Rudy, one of Roeder's lawyers.
"It's difficult because they don't really care, they expect to be convicted, and their cause is more important than saving their own hide," Rudy said.
Associated Press writer Kristen Wyatt contributed to this report.