(COLORADO SPRINGS) — At their arraignment hearing on Monday, June 26, the Club Q shooter pleaded guilty to five counts of first-degree murder, and 46 counts of attempted murder. A judge sentenced them to five consecutive life sentences and an additional 2,212 years in prison.
“That is the longest sentence ever achieved in the 4th Judicial District… I hope he serves out his sentence in the smallest, most uncomfortable cell that the state of Colorado can provide him,” said District Attorney Michael Allen.
For each count of first-degree murder, the shooter will serve five life sentences. The additional 2,212 comes from 48 years for each of the 46 counts of attempted murder, plus three years for the classified felony bias-motivated crime, and 364 days for class 1 misdemeanor bias-motivated crime.
Seven months after the Club Q mass shooting, justice was served at the El Paso County Courthouse for the five victims – Daniel Aston, Raymond Green Vance, Kelly Loving, Ashley Paugh, and Derrick Rump, and dozens more, whose lives were forever altered that night.
Ahead of the sentencing, the courtroom was emotional, as over twenty survivors of the shooting, as well as the family and people close to the victims gave their impact statements. It took over two hours to hear all the impact statements, where many of the survivors recalled that night in vivid detail, describing the lasting physical and emotional impacts.
The sister of Ashley Paugh said she would never forget the cries of her 11-year-old niece the night she found out her mother had died.
“The screams and cries of ‘No, no, no, please do something to bring my mommy back,” is something Stephanie Hart says she wishes the shooter could hear every day.
Edward Sanders, who was shot twice that night, talked about how he still has to clean his bullet wounds every day, to this day.
The army veteran who subdued the shooter, Richard Fierro, looked directly at the shooter during his statement. He raised his voice in anger, calling them a domestic terrorist, “This terrorist is a coward! He chose to target the innocent.”
Many survivors said the trauma from that night completely altered their sense of safety in any public setting.
“Since the shooting, things for me have changed, I’m scared to go to the grocery store, the gas station… because I think ‘is this the day I get murdered’?” said Joshua Thurman, a survivor of the shooting.
While the shooter did not address the court directly, their attorney read their statement to the court, which read: “They are deeply remorseful and sorry… They know that they can’t do anything to make it better… they are asking the court to accept the plea deal.”
The victim’s family members, some of whom looked the shooter in the face while delivering their statements, don’t believe the shooter has any remorse for what they did.
“I was shaking, and he was so not acting remorseful. He’s a coward for not even speaking up,” said Sabrina Aston, Daniel Aston’s mother.
The shooter identifies as non-binary, but District Attorney Michael Allen believes they used this identification to avoid the bias-motivated charges.
“There is zero evidence prior to the shooting that he was nonbinary… He exhibited extreme hatred for people in the LGBTQ+ community and other minority groups as well, I should say. And so I think it was a stilted effort to avoid any potential bias-motivated or hate crimes charges,” said DA Allen.
Even though the four years resulting from the bias-motivated charges are minuscule compared to over 2,000 additional years from the attempted murder charges, DA Allen said that it was important for the shooter to be convicted for the motive of this crime.
“These victims were targeted for who they were and are,” said Allen.
Even though the shooter will be serving the maximum possible sentence, survivors and family members of victims say they wish the shooter could suffer even worse consequences.
“I kind of wish this was a death penalty state, not because I want him to die, but I would like him to sit in a jail cell not knowing when he’s going to die or when, what his last breath might be,” said Ashtin Gamblin, who wants the shooter to know how she felt after they shot her nine times that night.
The death penalty is a large reason why the DA says the shooter took the plea deal.
“If you take full responsibility at the state level, that can sometimes avoid a federal death sentence,” said Allen.
The FBI has opened a federal investigation, where the death penalty can be a sentencing option for the shooter.
During his impact statement, the owner of Club Q spoke directly to the shooter, telling them that they did not succeed in destroying this community, and that Club Q will re-open with a memorial in honor of those who were killed.
Allen says in an effort to safeguard the LGBTQ+ community, efforts to start a resiliency center are underway. He said this center will serve as a safe haven to help the community through the healing process.
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