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Judge delays deciding whether prosecution of man charged in Colorado supermarket shooting can resume

A white piece of paper with cursive writing on it hangs on a chain link fence in a clear plastic bag with two bouquets of yellow and red roses below and a King Soopers supermarket in the background behind the fence.
Adam Rayes
/
KUNC
A tribute to the victims of a mass shooting at a King Soopers in Boulder on March 22, 2021, hangs on the temporary fence around the store.

A judge on Tuesday granted a defense request to hold a hearing with experts to determine if a mentally ill man charged with killing 10 people at a Colorado supermarket in 2021 is mentally competent to be prosecuted for the mass shooting.

Prosecutors revealed last week that experts at the state mental hospital determined that Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa is now mentally competent to proceed in the case. However, his lawyer, Kathryn Herold, exercising the defense's right to challenge the finding, requested a hearing with testimony from both prosecutors and the defense to be held before Judge Ingrid Bakke rules on whether she believes he is competent. Bakke was required to schedule the hearing under the law but she denied Herold's request for another evaluation to be done.

Herold told Bakke that all the evaluations done on Alissa — including the most recent one that found him competent — say he is "profoundly mentally ill." She also said she does not believe her client, who has schizophrenia, is competent.

Robert Olds, whose niece Rikki Olds was killed in the shooting, said he held "guarded excitement" that the case would move forward and was grateful that Bakke denied the second evaluation.

"My hope is that the restoration hearing will prove he is competent," he said.

Alissa is charged with murder and multiple attempted murder counts in the March 22, 2021, shooting at a crowded King Soopers store in Boulder, about 30 miles northwest of Denver. He has not yet been asked to enter a plea.

The case against him has been on hold for nearly two years after his attorneys first raised concerns about his mental competency — whether he is able to understand court proceedings and communicate with his lawyers to help his own defense.

District Attorney Michael Dougherty told Bakke that Alissa is consistently taking his medication, including a new, unidentified drug, noting that doctors were able to get a court order to forcibly medicate him. However, he said hospital staffers believe Alissa's competency is "tenuous" and asked Bakke to encourage the state hospital to keep Alissa there rather than being returned to the Boulder jail, where he cannot be forcibly medicated or get the same level of care.

Dougherty said the hospital has already made inquiries about returning Alissa to the jail. Bakke, who seemed surprised, said Alissa must remain at the hospital for now since she has not ruled on his competency following the latest report.

Alissa's hospital reports are not public under Colorado law, but lawyers have sometimes provided limited details about his mental health in court filings. In February, Alissa's lawyers confirmed he had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and said he had a limited ability to interact with others.

"He speaks in repetitive non-responsive answers and cannot tolerate contact with others for more than a very brief period," they said at the time.

Competency 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.

With the victims and families of those killed eager to see the case move ahead, Bakke agreed to set a hearing to determine if there was enough evidence for Alissa to stand trial on Nov. 14. Dougherty argued that could proceed even if Alissa is deemed incompetent.

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