Colorado supermarket shooting suspect suggested to psychologist that he wanted police to kill him
BOULDER, Colo. (AP) — The man accused of killing 10 people at a Colorado supermarket in 2021 told a mental health evaluator he bought firearms to carry out a mass shooting and suggested that he wanted police to kill him, according to Wednesday court testimony.
Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa made the statements at a state mental hospital during an August evaluation that determined he was mentally competent to stand trial, said Loandra Torres, the forensic psychologist who evaluated the 24-year-old suspect.
The defendant, who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, also “recognized that there are guns that have his fingerprints on them and that can be used as some evidence against him,” Torres testified.
Alissa is charged with murder and multiple attempted murder counts after the shooting rampage on March 22, 2021, in a crowded King Soopers store in Boulder, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) northwest of Denver. He has not yet been asked to enter a plea.
Judge Ingrid Bakke held Wednesday’s hearing to evaluate Alissa’s fitness for trial at the request of his public defender, Kathryn Herold, who wanted a chance to debate the competency finding.
Forced medication administered to Alissa since March under a court order has significantly improved his mental condition, according to Torres and a second psychologist who testified for the prosecution. His condition had deteriorated prior to the forced medication.
“A little improvement while you’re on your medication doesn’t mean you’ve been restored to competency,” Herold said, asking the judge to rule that Alissa remains incompetent. “I know that is difficult from a moral standpoint when we have a courtroom full of families of victims and victims themselves.”
But District Attorney Michael Dougherty said Alissa’s struggle to communicate, which was a core concern in his competency evaluations, might not completely stem from his schizophrenia diagnosis.
“Outside of mental health,” he said, “I think there are legitimate reasons why someone would choose not to communicate after killing 10 people.” He urged Bakke to find Alissa’s competency has been restored.
In the courtroom for the hearing were victims and relatives including Robert Olds, whose 25-year-old niece Rikki Olds was killed in the shooting and who has been lobbying left and right to find out why it’s taken so long to for Alissa to be determined competent.
“The defense attorneys said all along: ‘We have to trust what the doctors say,’” he told The Associated Press, “Well finally the doctors have done their job and the doctors have said, ‘He is competent.’”
Olds also spoke of the aftermath of the shooting, how he cleaned out his niece’s apartment, secured a death certificate and retrieved her car from the supermarket.
“Now that I’ve had some time to sit back and reflect, it’s all the times that I’ve been missing her: the birthdays, the holidays, the impromptu drop-in visits where I would try to make her laugh so hard she would snort and then I would laugh,” he said, tears filling his eyes.
Alissa attended the hearing in a striped orange and white jumpsuit and sat fidgeting next to his attorneys.
Prior to his admission to the state hospital in December 2021, Alissa had not been hospitalized for psychiatric problems, treated or medicated, said Torres, the forensic psychologist.
Individual therapy sessions, in addition to the forced medication, helped him become competent, Torres said.
The judge was required to schedule the hearing but denied Herold’s request for another evaluation from the mental hospital. Herold argued that Alissa is not competent and cited the psychiatric evaluations describing him as “profoundly mentally ill.”
Schizophrenia can shake someone’s grasp on reality, potentially interfering in a legal defense in court. Mental competency to move toward trial entails being able to understand court proceedings and help Herold with his defense. It 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 a defendant’s mental health prevented them from understanding right from wrong. Alissa discussed using such as a plea as a legal strategy in his conversations with Torres, she said.
The August evaluation was the first that ruled Alissa competent. The case has been on hold while victims and families of those killed are eager for it to move forward.
Alissa’s inability to reach mental competency for over two years is rare, said psychologist Julie Gallagher, who testified for the prosecution. Gallagher added that it was due to the severity of his illness.
Alissa recently punched another patient in the face multiple times, said Hareesh Pillai, his psychiatrist at the state mental hospital. It was one of only a few diversions from his typically reserved behavior, according to Pillai.
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.
But he was more forthcoming by August and when asked why he purchased firearms, “he said it was to commit a mass shooting,” Torres told the court.
“He indicated that there was some intention to commit suicide by cop,” she added.
Alissa acknowledged he had schizophrenia and had heard voices in the past, Torres said.
Alissa was convicted of assaulting a fellow high school student in 2018, according to police documents.
Also in court Wednesday for the proceedings were Nick Edwards, 24, and his mother, Sarah Moonshadow.
In an interview, Edwards recounted how he and his mother were in the market’s self-checkout area the day of the shooting when they heard loud bangs outside. He said the attacker then entered and he heard another shot, then silence, then a woman’s scream. They caught a glance of the shooter before they escaped.
For months afterward he would jump with fright every time his boss popped open a bag of frozen onion rings in the restaurant where he worked. The whole family fell into depression, Moonshadow said. Asked how he felt about being in the same room as Alissa, Edwards shrugged.
“He’s got to be there,” he said, adding, “just to see the people he missed.”
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.
Associated Press writer Matthew Brown contributed from Billings, Montana.
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