DENVER (AP) — A Colorado man charged with killing 10 people at a Boulder supermarket in 2021 is mentally competent to move toward trial, prosecutors announced Wednesday, raising the possibility that criminal proceedings stalled for over 1 ½ years could resume soon.
In a court filing, they wrote that experts at the state mental hospital said in their latest report that they now think Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa is competent because he is consistently taking his medication, including a new, unidentifed drug. However, the filing says they believe his competency is “tenuous” and recommend Alissa, who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, continue with ongoing psychiatric care and medications to remain competent.
Prosecutors therefore asked Judge Ingrid Bakke to keep Alissa at the Colorado Mental Health Institute in Pueblo rather than return him to the jail in Boulder, which cannot provide the same level of care. They say he can be transported to and from Boulder, 140 miles (225 kilometers) away, for court hearings.
The latest mental health evaluation by the state’s mental health experts noted Alissa’s medication regime and a stable therapeutic environment have played “a significant role in him maintaining competency,” according to prosecutors.
Bakke still must accept the hospital’s conclusion in order for criminal proceedings to resume. Prosecutors also noted Alissa’s lawyers have until Sept. 1 to request another evaluation of their client’s competency.
A hearing to discuss the status of the case is scheduled for Tuesday.
Alissa is charged with murder and multiple attempted murder counts for also endangering the lives of 26 other people. He has not been asked yet to enter a plea and his lawyers have not commented about the allegations.
Earlier this year, defense lawyers confirmed Alissa has schizophrenia, a mental disorder which causes people to have trouble understanding reality.
Being deemed mentally competent does not mean Alissa has been cured, just that experts think he is able to understand the proceedings and help lawyers working on his defense.
The March 22, 2021, attack at a King Soopers grocery shocked a state that has seen its share of mass shootings, including the 1999 Columbine High School massacre and the 2012 Aurora movie theater shooting. The mass shooting killed a police officer whose team rushed into the building, shoppers and several employees at the supermarket in Boulder, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) northwest of Denver.
The remodeled King Soopers reopened last year with about half of those who worked there previously choosing to return.
Robert Olds, whose niece Rikki Olds was killed in the shooting, has faithfully attended status hearings in the case. He said he and Rikki’s mother Jeanette Olds, who raised her, learned the news about Alissa on Friday, the day the hospital issued its report.
“My mom and I are overjoyed that after 2 1/2 years since the senseless murder of Rikki and nine others that there will be movement toward justice,” said Olds, adding he regrets the death penalty is no longer allowed in Colorado.
The court case has been on hold since December 2021 when a judge first ruled that Alissa was mentally incompetent and sent him to the state hospital for treatment.
Staff at the hospital continued to find he was incompetent but their reports are not made public under Colorado law. District Attorney Michael Dougherty previously alleged that Alissa was refusing to participate in some of his treatment. After he pressed for a prosecution expert to be able evaluate Alissa, defense attorneys revealed Alissa’s diagnosis in court filings in February and provided the most information about his mental state so far.
His lawyers also said he had a limited ability to interact with others and his symptoms are resistant to treatment with medication.
“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.
Alissa is being represented by public defenders who do not comment to the media on their cases.
Dougherty’s office said it has asked a judge to rule that Alissa is competent and schedule an evidentiary hearing as soon as possible to determine if the case will proceed to a trial.
“Our office will continue fighting for justice in this case,” Dougherty said.
Authorities have never disclosed a motive for the shooting and not much is known about what led Alissa to carry out the killings. His family immigrated from Syria, he became a U.S. citizen and they lived in a middle-class neighborhood in a Denver suburb, where the family also had a restaurant.
The only known problems prior to the shooting was ab incident in high school in 2018 when he was convicted of assaulting a fellow student, according to police documents. A former classmate also told The Associated Press that Alissa was kicked off the wrestling team after yelling he would kill everyone following a loss in a practice match.
Corrects that the remodeled store opened last year, not in February.