By Steve Gorman
(Reuters) -A 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 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 criminal proceedings against him and meaningfully assisting in his own defense.
“The court shall resume the criminal proceedings in this matter,” the judge wrote, setting a preliminary hearing in the case for Nov. 14.
Still, the judge urged the state mental institution where Alissa has been confined since December 2021 to maintain custody of him.
Bakke agreed with prosecutors that Alissa, 24, stands a better chance of avoiding regression if he stays hospitalized, where he can reliably be forced to take his antipsychotic medication, 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 previously deemed Alissa to be mentally incompetent and suffering from schizophrenia.
But psychiatric experts testified that by August 2023, when he was most recently re-evaluated, Alissa had improved to the point that he acknowledged his schizophrenia diagnosis and recounted auditory hallucinations he had experienced on the day of the shooting spree.
One forensic psychologist, Loandra Torres, testified that Alissa explained his reasoning for buying guns, saying he had wanted to carry out a mass shooting with the intent to “commit suicide by cop.”
That testimony marked the first indication of a motive for the shooting offered in the case in open court.
The August evaluation session led the Colorado Department of Human Services to formally conclude in a report 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.
Torres testified that during his August evaluation, Alissa himself had noted that an insanity plea could be a potential defense strategy should he be ordered to stand trial.
Alissa, bearded and bespectacled, appeared fidgety and distracted as he sat beside his attorney in court on Sept. 27, dressed in striped jail garb. According to Judge Bakke, he had refused to take his medication during his brief stay in the Boulder County Jail to await the competency hearing.
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 fire with police, according to authorities. Ten people, including a police officer, were killed in the rampage.
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 shooting, and that Alissa was carrying a second handgun that was not fired in the attack.
(Reporting and writing by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Chris Reese)