Suspect in US Independence Day mass shooting pleads not guilty

Robert E Crimo III is charged with 117 counts connected to the attack, including 21 charges of first-degree murder.

The man accused of killing seven people and wounding dozens more in a shooting in the United States during an Independence Day parade has pleaded not guilty

Robert E Crimo III appeared for a brief hearing Wednesday in Lake County’s circuit court to enter a formal plea to the charges — 21 counts of first-degree murder, 48 counts of attempted murder and 48 counts of aggravated battery representing those killed and wounded during the parade in Highland Park, a suburb of Chicago.

Crimo, 21, wore a COVID-19 face mask throughout the 10-minute arraignment and repeatedly told Judge Victoria Rossetti that he understood the charges and potential penalties he faces, including life imprisonment.

The plea came a week after Crimo was indicted by a grand jury on 117 felony counts for the attack. Lake County prosecutors had previously filed seven murder charges against him in the days following the shooting.

People in court
Robert E Crimo III’s mother Denise Pesina, left, and father Robert Crimo Jr, centre, attended the hearing on Wednesday [Nam Y Huh/ Pool via AP]

He has been held without bail since he was arrested after the shooting. If convicted on the murder charges, he would face a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The bloodshed was part of a recent flare-up of mass shootings in the United States, heightening a long-running debate between advocates of tighter controls over gun ownership and those who oppose any restrictions on the constitutional right of Americans to bear arms.

Two of the most prominent of those attacks took place at a school in Uvalde, Texas, where a gunman shot and killed 19 children and two teachers, and at a supermarket in a predominately Black neighbourhood of Buffalo, New York, where a shooting rampage left 10 people dead.

The multiple first-degree murder charges alleged Crimo intended to kill, caused death or great bodily harm and took action with a strong probability of causing death or great bodily harm to the seven people who died.

A representative for the county public defender’s office, which is representing Crimo, has said the office does not comment publicly on any cases. A lawyer with the office entered Crimo’s not guilty plea during Wednesday’s court appearance.

Prosecutors have said Crimo admitted to the shooting once police arrested him following an hourslong search for the gunman who opened fire from the rooftop of a building along the parade route.

Authorities have said the wounded range in age from eight to their 80s, including eight-year-old Cooper Roberts who was paralysed from the waist down when the shooting severed his spine.

On Monday, Tony Loizzi a family spokesperson, said after nearly a month in intensive care, Cooper was transferred to a rehabilitation centre in Chicago and was able to be reunited with their family dog.

In comments delivered after the hearing, Lake County State’s Attorney Eric Rinehart declined to say whether Crimo could face additional charges and said he would not comment on whether Crimo’s parents could be charged. Some people have questioned why Crimo’s parents apparently supported his interest in guns only months after he reportedly threatened suicide and violence.

Prosecutors said Crimo had planned the attack for weeks. On the morning of the parade, he climbed onto a rooftop along the parade route and fired more than 70 rounds at spectators lining the street below, according to court documents. He then made his getaway dressed in women’s clothing and makeup to cover his facial tattoos.

A Smith & Wesson semiautomatic rifle, similar to an AR-15, was found at the scene, and a similar weapon was found in his car when he was arrested, according to prosecutors.