BOULDER, Colo. (AP) — A judge ruled Friday that the man accused of killing 10 people at a Colorado supermarket in a 2021 rampage is mentally competent to stand trial, allowing the stalled prosecution to move forward.
Judge Ingrid Bakke ruled that Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, who has schizophrenia, is able to understand court proceedings and contribute to his own defense. Bakke presided over a hearing last week to consider an August determination by experts at a state mental hospital that Alissa was competent after previous evaluations found otherwise. Alissa’s attorney had asked for the hearing to debate the finding.
In her ruling, Bakke said she was convinced that, following forced medication, Alissa had a “far improved capacity to elucidate his reasoning and decision-making.” That’s a critical component of competency, which partly hinges on Alissa being able to make informed decisions in his own case, such as whether to testify himself.
Alissa, 24, is charged with murder and multiple attempted murder counts in connection with the shooting spree on March 22, 2021, in a crowded King Soopers Store in Boulder, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) northwest of Denver. Alissa has not yet been asked to enter a plea.
Alissa allegedly began firing outside the grocery store, shooting at least one person in the parking lot before moving inside, employees told investigators. Employees and customers scrambled to escape the violence, some leaving through loading docks in the back and others sheltering in nearby stores.
A SWAT team took Alissa into custody. Authorities haven’t yet disclosed a motive for the shooting.
Alissa’s mental condition improved this spring after he was forced under a court order to take medication to treat his schizophrenia, said a psychologist who testified for the prosecution last week. He was admitted to the state hospital in December 2021.
Bakke noted that in the August evaluation, Alissa answered questions about the day of the shooting and the offenses alleged against him.
Loandra Torres, a forensic psychologist who evaluated Alissa, testified that Alissa said that he bought firearms to commit a mass shooting. Torres said he also indicated “that there was some intention to commit suicide by cop.”
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 said.
Schizophrenia can shake someone’s grasp on reality, potentially interfering in a legal defense in court. Mental competency does not mean he’s been cured.
Mental competency is also separate from pleading not guilty by reason of insanity, which is a claim that someone’s mental health prevented them from understanding right from wrong when a crime was committed.
“This decision provides some hope for the victim families that this case will move forward and that justice will be done,” District Attorney Michael Dougherty said in a statement. “We will never stop fighting for the right outcome in this case.”
Robert Olds, whose 25-year-old niece Rikki Olds was killed in the shooting, said the last week was an anxious one as he awaited the judge’s decision. He heard about the ruling from a friend by text late Friday afternoon.
“Finally, finally a step in the right direction,” he said of Bakke’s decision.
Alissa is represented by public defenders, who do not comment to the media on their cases.
Now that Alissa has been deemed legally competent to participate in proceedings, Bakke is set to hold a Nov. 14 hearing to determine whether there is enough evidence for the case to proceed to a trial.
Bakke acknowledged that she could not order the state hospital to keep Alissa now that he has been deemed competent, but she urged officials to keep him there anyway since it has the ability to forcibly medicate him, unlike the jail.
She said Alissa has vowed to refuse to take his medicine if he is returned to the jail, noting that that happened when he was temporarily moved there for last week’s hearing.
Citing one expert who said Alissa could regress if he bounced back and forth between the jail and the hospital, which has struggled to keep up with demand for its services for years, Bakke said that outcome “would be an injustice to everyone who has been impacted by this case.” The hospital is about 140 miles (225 kilometers) from Boulder.
The remodeled King Soopers reopened last year. About half of those who worked there previously chose to return.
Bedayn is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.