The gunman who killed five people and injured 19 others at an LGBTQ+ club that was a refuge in the conservative city of Colorado Springs pleaded guilty to federal hate crime charges and was sentenced to 55 life terms in prison on Tuesday, but once again declined to apologise or say anything to the victims’ families.

Prosecutors nevertheless highlighted the importance of Anderson Lee Aldrich finally being forced to take responsibility for the hatred toward LGBTQ+ people that they say motivated the mass shooting. As part of the plea agreement, Aldrich repeatedly admitted on Tuesday to evidence of hatred.

Prosecutor Alison Connaughty said: “The admission that these were hate crimes is important to the government, and it’s important to the community of Club Q.”

By targeting Club Q, Aldrich attacked a place that was much more than a bar, Ms Connaughty added.

“It’s a special gathering place for anyone who needed community and anyone who needed that safe place,” she said. “We met people who said ‘this venue saved my life and I was able to feel normal again.’”

Aldrich, 24, is already serving life in prison after pleading guilty to state charges in the 2022 shooting last year.

Federal prosecutors focused on proving that the attack at Club Q — a sanctuary for LGBTQ+ people in the mostly conservative city — was premeditated and fuelled by bias.

US District Judge Charlotte Sweeney, the first openly gay federal judge in Colorado, heard heart-wrenching testimony from victims before accepting the agreement, which also includes a total of 190 years on gun charges and other counts.

“You will never get out of prison,” the judge said.

Aldrich, appearing in an orange prison uniform with head shaved and wrists handcuffed, declined to speak at the sentencing.

Defence attorney David Kraut made no explicit mention of hate or bias in his comments.

Mr Kraut said there was no singular explanation for why Aldrich carried out the shooting, but he mentioned childhood trauma, a sometimes abusive mother, online extremism, drug use and access to guns as factors that “combined to increase the risk that Anderson would engage in extreme violence”.

Defence attorneys in the state case had pushed back against hate as a motivation, arguing that Aldrich was drugged up on cocaine and medication at the time.

Ms Connaughty said investigators uncovered evidence of Aldrich’s hate for the LGBTQ+ community that included two websites created by Aldrich to post hate-related content, a target found inside the defendant’s house with a rainbow ring that had bullets in it and the defendant’s sharing of recordings of 911 calls from the 2016 killing of 49 people at the gay-friendly Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

Aldrich also studied other mass shootings, accumulated weapons, shared an online manifesto from a mass shooter who referred to transgenderism as a “disease,” and co-ordinated a spam email campaign against a former work supervisor who is gay, the prosecutor said.

Defence attorneys in the state case said Aldrich is non-binary and uses they/them pronouns, but that was rejected by some of the victims as well as the district attorney who prosecuted Aldrich in state court, who called it an effort to avoid hate crime charges.

They include Ashtin Gamblin, who worked the front door that night and remains in physical therapy after being shot nine times.

Ahead of the hearing, Ms Gamblin said a true member of the LGBTQ+ community would know about the discrimination and the mental health challenges they face and wouldn’t attack its members in such a sanctuary.

“We deserve to be safe and go in public and actually survive being in public,” Ms Gamblin told the judge on Tuesday.

Aldrich visited the club at least eight times before the attack, including stopping by an hour and a half before the shooting, according to prosecutors.

Just before midnight, Aldrich returned wearing a tactical vest with ballistic plates and carrying an AR-15 style rifle and started firing immediately.

Aldrich killed the first person in the entryway, shot at bartenders and customers at the bar and then moved onto the dance floor, pausing to reload the rifle’s magazine.

The shooting was stopped by a Navy officer who grabbed the barrel of the rifle, burning his hand, and an Army veteran who helped subdue Aldrich until police arrived, authorities have said.

Aldrich, who will be returned to state prison after the hearing, was being sentenced federally under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which expanded federal law in 2009 to include crimes motivated by sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.