Suspect in Colorado supermarket shooting declared mentally fit for trial

By Steve Gorman

(Reuters) – The Colorado man accused of murdering 10 people in a shooting rampage at a Boulder supermarket in 2021, then diagnosed as schizophrenic and declared mentally unfit for prosecution months later, is now competent to stand trial, a judge ruled on Friday.

Boulder County District Judge Ingrid Bakke agreed with state psychiatric experts and prosecutors that Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa has made enough progress through treatment to render him capable of understanding the charges against him and meaningfully assisting in his own defense.

Still, the judge asked that Alissa remain in the custody of the state hospital where he has been confined for the past two years. Bakke agreed with prosecutors that Alissa, 24, stands a better chance of avoiding regression if he stays hospitalized than if he were returned to jail to await trial.

Alissa’s lawyer, Kathryn Herold, argued during his competency review hearing last week that her client’s mental illness remains profound, so much so that he “engaged in an unprovoked” assault during the past month, apparently fueled by a psychotic episode.

She recounted that four psychologists had deemed Alissa to be mentally incompetent and suffering from schizophrenia, from October of 2021 through April of this year.

Psychiatric experts testifying at last Wednesday’s hearing said Alissa had suffered from hallucinations and had never been treated for severe mental illness before he arrived at the Colorado Mental Health Hospital following his arrest.

One forensic psychologist, Loandra Torres, who evaluated Alissa for competency, said he told behavioral health professionals at the hospital he had bought guns because he wanted to carry out a mass shooting and “commit suicide by cop.”

That testimony marked the first indication of a motive for the shooting offered in the case in open court.

The Colorado Department of Human Services issued a re-evaluation report concluding in August that Alissa had been “restored to competency” through court-ordered psychiatric treatment, including involuntarily administered drug therapy.

The legal definition for competency differs from the question of whether someone can plead not guilty by reason of insanity, a separate standard requiring prosecutors to show the defendant knew right from wrong at the time of committing an offense.

Alissa, bearded and bespectacled, appeared fidgety as he sat beside his attorney in court on Wednesday, dressed in striped jail garb.

He is charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder and dozens of attempted-murder charges and related offenses stemming from the March 2021 massacre at a King Soopers grocery store in Boulder, about 28 miles (45 km) northwest of Denver.

Alissa surrendered to law enforcement officials at the shooting scene after he was wounded in an exchange of gunfire with police, according to authorities.

Ten people, including a police officer, were killed in the rampage, which came less than a week after an unrelated series of attacks by a gunman who killed eight people at three Atlanta-area day spas.

Authorities said the murder weapon in the Boulder attack, a Ruger AR-556 pistol that resembles a semi-automatic rifle, was purchased by Alissa six days before the grocery store shooting spree.

The sheriff’s office said Alissa had a second weapon, a 9mm handgun, in his possession at the time but that gun was not fired during the rampage.

Alissa pleaded guilty to a third-degree assault in 2018 for punching a high school classmate without warning the previous year, court records show.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver; Editing by Steve Gorman, Matthew Lewis and Chris Reese)

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