Colorado supermarket shooting suspect’s case finally resumes after he’s ruled competent

Nov 13, 2023, 10:04 PM

DENVER (AP) — Prosecutors are finally set to lay out their case against a mentally ill man now deemed competent to stand trial in a mass shooting more than two years ago, accused of gunning down 10 people at a supermarket in a Colorado college town.

A judge planned a hearing Tuesday to decide if there is enough evidence for Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, who has schizophrenia, to go on trial in the March 22, 2021, shooting at a crowded King Soopers store in Boulder, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) northwest of Denver.

Authorities have not revealed if they know a motive for the shooting. But a forensic psychologist testified during a hearing in September that the 24-year-old Alissa bought firearms to carry out a mass shooting and indicated “there was some intention to commit suicide by cop.”

Alissa, who is charged with murder and multiple attempted murder counts, has not been asked to enter a plea yet. But neither his attorneys nor anyone else has disputed that he was the gunman.

At the September hearing, a forensic psychologist, Loandra Torres, also told the judge that Alissa knows his fingerprints were found on guns that could be used as evidence against him. He was arrested in the store after being shot by a police officer.

Tuesday’s hearing is the next required step in his prosecution, which until recently had been stalled because of his mental health. For families of victims, it is an important milestone. Robert Olds, whose niece Rikki Olds was killed, said he plans to be in the courtroom as he has throughout the legal process because he wants to fight for justice on her behalf. His niece was a 25-year-old front-end manager at the supermarket.

“It’s the last fight, the last stand for my niece who can’t be here to do that herself because this guy murdered her,” Robert Olds said.

Alissa is accused of killing nine shoppers and workers inside and outside the store as well as Officer Eric Talley, a father of seven and one of the first three police officers who entered the store. Also killed were Denny Stong, Neven Stanisic, Tralona Bartkowiak, Teri Leiker, Suzanne Fountain, Kevin Mahoney, Lynn Murray and Jody Waters.

Authorities have said Alissa legally purchased the AR-556 pistol, which resembles a rifle, used in the attack. The families of some of the victims are suing its manufacturer, Sturm, Ruger & Co., claiming it markets the gun in a “reckless” and “immoral” way that promoted its killing capability and glorified lone gunmen. In a court filing in response to the lawsuit, the company said its marketing does not promote illegal activity and that the lawsuit is trying to unconstitutionally punish its lawful and protected commercial speech.

Alissa was declared mentally incompetent in late 2021 and sent to the state mental hospital for treatment. After he was forcibly medicated, experts this summer said his condition had improved significantly. Last month, Judge Ingrid Bakke ruled that Alissa was competent to be prosecuted over the objections of the defense after hearing testimony from psychologists.

Another psychologist who testified for the prosecution at the September hearing, Julie Gallagher, attributed the length of time it took for Alissa to reach mental competency to the severity of his illness.

Initial evaluations throughout 2021 and 2022 found Alissa incompetent for trial largely due to his inability to communicate clearly and at times his outright refusal to discuss the allegations against him, Torres testified.

Mental competency involves whether or not a defendant is able to understand court proceedings and communicate with his lawyers to help his own defense. It is a different legal issue than a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, which involves whether someone’s mental health prevented them from understanding right from wrong when a crime was committed.

His family immigrated from Syria, he became a U.S. citizen and they lived in a middle-class neighborhood in a Denver suburb, where the family also had a restaurant.

The only known problems prior to the shooting was an incident in high school in 2018 when Alissa was convicted of assaulting a fellow student, a misdemeanor, according to police documents. A former classmate also told The Associated Press that Alissa was kicked off the wrestling team after yelling he would kill everyone following a loss in a practice match.

The supermarket shooting ended after Alissa was wounded by a police officer who was part of a second wave of law enforcement that entered the store after Talley was killed.

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Colorado supermarket shooting suspect’s case finally resumes after he’s ruled competent