DENVER—A judge ruled Friday that a man charged with killing 10 people at a Colorado supermarket earlier this year is mentally incompetent to stand trial and ordered him to be treated at the state mental hospital to see if he can be made well enough to face prosecution.
Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, 22, is accused of opening fire at a busy King Soopers in the college town of Boulder in March, killing a police officer, shoppers, and several store employees.
Four doctors have now determined that Alissa is not mentally competent to participate in court proceedings, and he has “deteriorated” over the past couple of months while in jail, District Attorney Michael Dougherty said. Given the consensus, Dougherty requested that Judge Ingrid Bakke send Alissa to the state mental hospital in hopes that medication and treatment will enable him to become competent under the law—able to understand legal proceedings and work with his lawyers to defend himself.
Dougherty did not disclose why the experts determined Alissa is not competent, and the report explaining the evaluation’s finding is not available to the public, only to the lawyers and judge. Alissa’s attorney, Kathryn Herold, said Friday her client has a “serious” mental illness but did not provide details. She also agreed he should be sent to the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo.
The ruling halts virtually all proceedings in the case indefinitely. Alissa is not scheduled to be back in court again until March 15, nearly a year after the shooting, to discuss whether any progress has been made. There is a possibility he could return before then if doctors believe he has become competent, Dougherty said. Prosecutors will get monthly updates from the hospital on his condition.
“I’m 100% confident that the day will come that he’s held fully responsible for what he did on March 22,” Dougherty said after the hearing.
Robert Olds, whose niece Rikki Olds, the supermarket’s front-end manager, was killed in the shooting, said he was frustrated by the latest delay, which puts off the day when his family can really begin to grieve by seeing Alissa put on trial. However, he also tries not to become too upset by the justice system’s slow pace, to avoid being “revictimized” by Alissa, he said.
Still, Olds noted Alissa seemed competent at his last court hearing when he answered the judge’s questions.
“He’s incompetent to stand trial, but on the day he did all of this he was pretty dang competent in his actions and everything else,” Olds said.
An earlier court-ordered evaluation completed Oct. 1 found Alissa was not mentally competent, but prosecutors asked for a second evaluation to be conducted with an expert of their choosing, the latest to find him incompetent. An earlier evaluation by a defense expert also found him to be incompetent, Dougherty said.
While none of those reports are public either, court filings regarding the Oct. 1 evaluation contained some hints of Alissa’s condition.
Alissa was provisionally diagnosed with an unspecified mental health condition that limits his ability to “meaningfully converse with others,” and he gave “superficial responses” to questions about hypothetical legal situations that indicate a “passive approach to his defense” and “potential overreliance on his attorneys,” according to a prosecution motion.
The defense, meanwhile, disputed the prosecution’s earlier claim that Alissa understood the legal process, noting he was fixated on the possibility of the death penalty even though Colorado has abolished it.
Competency issues have also delayed the prosecution of a man accused of killing three people in a 2015 attack on a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs.
Robert Dear was repeatedly found incompetent to proceed in his state case. Federal prosecutors then charged him in 2019, but the competency issue has continued to delay the case in federal court.
Competency is a different legal issue than a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, which hinges on whether someone’s mental health prevented them from knowing right from wrong when a crime was committed.
By Colleen Slevin