Killer who attacked Colorado gay club pleads guilty to hate crimes, sentenced

By Keith Coffman and Jonathan Allen

DENVER (Reuters) -The convicted shooter who killed five people in a 2022 attack at a gay nightclub in Colorado, pleaded guilty to federal hate crime and gun charges on Tuesday and received multiple sentences of life in prison without possibility of release.

Anderson Lee Aldrich, 24, has already been sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty to state murder charges in a separate prosecution last year for the premeditated attack on employees and patrons of Club Q in Colorado Springs.

Earlier this year, Aldrich agreed to also enter a guilty plea to all 74 federal charges and face additional life-imprisonment sentences for planning and carrying out the attack after entering the club armed with a semiautomatic rifle and a handgun on Nov. 19, 2022, during a drag show. Five people were killed and more than a dozen others injured before two patrons managed to wrest Aldrich's weapons away.

Aldrich, who is jailed at a Wyoming state penitentiary, entered the guilty plea before Judge Charlotte Sweeney at the U.S. District Court in Denver.

"This community is much stronger than you," Sweeney told Aldrich in handing down the sentencing. "This community is stronger than your armor, stronger than your weapons, and it's sure as heck stronger than your hatred."

Earlier in the hearing, multiple survivors and victims' relatives described Club Q as a rare haven for LGBT people in the area, and recounted the pain of losing those killed.

Wyatt Kent, a drag performer at Club Q, was working there the night of the attack alongside his partner, Daniel Aston, a bartender killed by Aldrich.

"All of my 22 years before that night can never be restored, but in that, I forgive you," Kent said in court, addressing Aldrich. "We, as a queer community, we are the resilient ones, and we continue to hold that beauty within each other. We continue to find joy in trauma and in pain and unfortunately, those are things that you will never experience for the rest of your life."

Several victims' relatives criticized the U.S. government's decision not to pursue the death penalty.

"What I think you should do, because they don't want to give you the death penalty, is to eat rat poison and then go to hell," Estella Bell told the court, addressing her grandson Raymond Vance's killer. Vance, 22, had gone to Club Q with his girlfriend to celebrate a birthday.

Aldrich declined to make a statement before sentencing.

Prior to Tuesday's hearing, Aldrich's attorneys and prosecutors from the U.S. attorney's office in Denver agreed that federal sentencing guidelines required multiple concurrent sentences of life in prison without possibility of parole and a consecutive sentence of 190 years in prison.

The most serious crimes to which Aldrich pleaded guilty included charges of wilfully killing someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver and Jonathan Allen in New York; editing by Donna Bryson, Rosalba O'Brien and Rod Nickel)

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