Murder charges filed
Robert L. Dear, 57, was charged last week in connection with the Nov. 27 shootings at the Planned Parenthood clinic at 3480 Centennial Blvd., in which three people were killed and nine injured. During the Dec. 9 hearing, Dear constantly interjected, calling himself a "warrior for the babies," and saying, "I'm guilty. There is no trial," which was recorded and shared by media.
Dear is being held without bail on eight counts of first-degree murder, including some duplicate counts coming from prosecutors alleging several theories of the case. He's also facing 131 counts of attempted first-degree murder, 35 counts of first-degree assault, three counts of crime of violence, and one count each of burglary and criminal mischief.
District Judge Gilbert Martinez imposed an order preventing attorneys from discussing the case with the media, and some news agencies speculated that Dear could be evaluated for his competency to stand trial. He's represented by public defender Daniel Kay, who represented James Holmes after the 2012 Aurora theater shooting in which 12 people were killed and 70 injured. The Holmes trial ended in July with his conviction and a sentence in August to life in prison.
District Attorney Dan May hasn't said whether he'll seek the death penalty against Dear.
The Springs Police Department announced Dec. 8 that four injured officers, three with the CSPD and one El Paso County sheriff's deputy, have been released from the hospital. None had been identified as of press time. — PZ
Museum folks dig in
Demolition began last week at the eventual downtown site of the U.S. Olympic Museum and Hall of Fame, west of Sierra Madre Street and Vermijo Avenue. The project is part of the City for Champions tourism package, which also is projected to include a downtown stadium, Air Force Academy visitors center and sports medicine facility at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.
Museum chairman Dick Celeste says in a news release that the project is "making great strides," with demolition the first visible step toward erecting the building. Groundbreaking is tentatively slated for next spring, after a railroad spur, asphalt and concrete are removed from the site, along with a metal building.
A portion of the site was donated by Nor'wood Development Group, whose interests hold additional property in the area. City Council voted Nov. 10 to donate its portion of the land to an entity controlled by Nor'wood, which would in turn donate it to the museum.
Mayor John Suthers says in the release the museum is seen as a catalyst for the Southwest Urban Renewal District, as well as a boost to tourism and jobs. According to Kristen Downs, the museum's director of administration, $48 million of the $80 million goal to build and endow the museum has been raised so far. — PZ
ACLU leader resigns
Loring Wirbel has resigned his position as co-chair of the Colorado Springs chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union after a Facebook post landed him in hot water.
Wirbel, a longtime leader of the group, managed to make national headlines after he posted on Facebook that people who vote for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump should be told they would be shot. Wirbel also likened Trump to Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels.
Wirbel, who freelances stories for the Independent's music section, did not return the Indy's phone call about this news. But he has told other media that the comments were a joke.
In an email to the Independent, Daniel Cole, executive director of the El Paso County Republican Party, said Wirbel's comments were particularly troubling because a Fountain woman recently threatened to shoot Republicans in a call to Planned Parenthood. (Planned Parenthood reported the call and the woman was arrested.)
"The ACLU is supposed to stand for the peaceful exchange of diverse ideas and respect for the democratic process," Cole wrote to the Independent. "A lot of people think it actually stands for the opposite. They have all the more reason to think so now. After Wirbel's comment and the Fountain woman arrested last week for threatening to shoot up a Republican meeting, we are increasing security at our functions." — JAS
Utility rates to inch down
On Jan. 1, lower utility rates go into effect under a rate case and Colorado Springs Utilities budget approved by City Council on Dec. 8.
The smallest decline will be seen in the typical residential bill, which will decrease by $1.57 a month, or less than 1 percent, for all four services: electric, gas, water and wastewater. The typical industrial bill will decrease by 3.4 percent, while the typical commercial bill will fall 7.5 percent.
Utilities says in a release that the lower rates stem from lower fuel costs and declining capital spending driven by the completion of Southern Delivery System pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir, which is due to go online next week. — PZ
PARCC results disappoint
Early results showed that most Colorado students did not meet expectations for English language arts and math on the state's biggest standardized test. Now, more detailed results are showing where the problems lie.
The latest results from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test show how kids performed at particular schools, districts and grade levels. (Chalkbeat Colorado has a database where parents can easily look up results at their school or district, at bit.ly/1UqeMLx.) But many say the PARCC results are misleading because many students got parental permission not to take the test.
"The high numbers of opt-outs, because they are concentrated at high-performing schools, all but certainly depressed the state's scores," Chalkbeat Colorado reports. In general, parents who opt-out their kids tend to complain that their children take too many standardized tests; PARCC is confusing or poorly written; or it is simply unnecessary.
Regardless, the results were not encouraging locally. In Colorado Springs School District 11, just 34.1 percent of third-graders met or exceeded expectations on the English language arts test — a key figure, since children who read on grade level by third grade are thought to fare better throughout their school years. The number does not appear to be heavily influenced by opt-outs, since 95.6 percent of D-11 third-graders participated.
But high-performing districts also had disappointing scores. Of Academy District 20's third-graders, 50.1 percent met or exceeded expectations on the English language arts test. The participation rate for D-20 third-graders was 90.4 percent. At Cheyenne Mountain School District 12, usually one of the state's top performers, only 47.7 percent of third-graders met or exceeded expectations on the English test. D-12's third grade participation rate was 91.2 percent. — JAS
Manitou buys open space
The only large, undeveloped piece of land for sale between Garden of the Gods and Manitou Springs will be protected from development.
The city of Manitou Springs plans to purchase 33.48 acres, known as the Voth property, with a $293,000 grant from the Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) board. The property, which is of cultural significance to the Ute tribe, will be open to the public to use for outdoor activities and educational purposes. — JAS