A judge has ruled that the man accused of killing 10 people at a Colorado supermarket in a 2021 rampage is mentally competent to stand trial, allowing the stalled prosecution to move forward.
Judge Ingrid Bakke ruled that Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, who has schizophrenia, is able to understand court proceedings and contribute to his own defence.
Ms Bakke presided over a hearing last week to consider an August determination by experts at a state mental hospital that Alissa was competent after previous evaluations found otherwise. Alissa’s attorney had asked for the hearing to debate the finding.
In her ruling, Ms Bakke said she was convinced that, following forced medication, Alissa had a “far improved capacity to elucidate his reasoning and decision-making”.
That is a critical component of competency, which partly hinges on Alissa being able to make informed decisions in his own case, such as whether to testify himself.
Alissa, 24, is charged with murder and multiple attempted murder counts in connection with the shooting spree on March 22 2021, in a crowded King Soopers Store in Boulder, about 30 miles (50 kilometres) northwest of Denver. Alissa has not yet been asked to enter a plea.
Alissa allegedly began firing outside the grocery store, shooting at least one person in the parking lot before moving inside, employees told investigators.
Employees and customers scrambled to escape the violence, some leaving through loading docks in the back and others sheltering in nearby stores.
A Swat team took Alissa into custody. Authorities have not yet disclosed a motive for the shooting.
Alissa’s mental condition improved this spring after he was forced under a court order to take medication to treat his schizophrenia, said a psychologist who testified for the prosecution last week. He was admitted to the state hospital in December 2021.
Ms Bakke noted that in the August evaluation, Alissa answered questions about the day of the shooting and the offences alleged against him.
Loandra Torres, a forensic psychologist who evaluated Alissa, testified that Alissa said that he bought firearms to commit a mass shooting, adding Alissa also indicated “that there was some intention to commit suicide by cop”.
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.
“This decision provides some hope for the victims’ families that this case will move forward and that justice will be done,” district attorney Michael Dougherty said in a statement.
“We will never stop fighting for the right outcome in this case.”
Now that Alissa has been deemed legally competent to participate in proceedings, Ms Bakke is set to hold a November 14 hearing to determine whether there is enough evidence for the case to proceed to a trial.
Ms Bakke acknowledged that she could not order the state hospital to keep Alissa now that he has been deemed competent, but she urged officials to keep him there anyway since it has the ability to forcibly medicate him, unlike the jail.
She said Alissa has vowed to refuse to take his medicine if he is returned to the jail, noting that had happened when he was temporarily moved there for last week’s hearing.