Suspect in Colorado supermarket massacre enters insanity plea

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) - A 24-year-old man initially ruled incompetent to stand trial on charges that he fatally shot 10 people inside a Colorado grocery store in 2021, but later deemed mentally fit, pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to murder charges on Tuesday.

Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa entered his plea in Boulder District Court after a judge ruled there was sufficient evidence to try him on 10 counts of first-degree murder, in addition to dozens of counts of attempted murder, assault and weapons offenses stemming from the rampage.

Judge Ingrid Bakke set a $100 million bond for Alissa, who has remained in custody since his arrest on the day of the shooting.

Authorities allege Alissa stormed a King Soopers supermarket in Boulder, about 28 miles (45 kilometers) northwest of Denver, on March 22, 2021, armed with a legally purchased Ruger AR-556 pistol, which resembles an AR-15 style rifle.

Boulder homicide detective Sarah Cantu testified on Tuesday that Alissa killed two victims in the store's parking lot before shooting eight others to death inside the supermarket. Among those killed was a police officer responding to the scene.

One of the victims was initially shot and wounded in the back, then slain as he tried to crawl away.

“He (Alissa) pursued him and shot him while was on the ground,” Cantu said.

The gunman also shot and wounded a woman, then fired multiple additional rounds at her as she curled up in a fetal position, killing her, Cantu said.

All the victims who were shot died from their injuries, authorities said. The shooting spree ended when a police officer shot Alissa in the leg, leading the gunman to surrender.

The murder case against Alissa stalled after he underwent a court-ordered psychiatric evaluation and was diagnosed with schizophrenia in late 2021. The judge, relying on the conclusions of state psychologists, then deemed him mentally unfit to stand trial.

But last month, psychiatric experts reported that Alissa had responded to treatment, and Bakke agreed, ruling that his mental condition had improved sufficiently to allow prosecution to move forward.

Competence is a legal determination that weighs whether a criminal defendant understands the charges and can meaningfully assist in his or her defense. An insanity plea relates to a defendant’s mental status at the time of the alleged crime.

Authorities have not determined a motive for the killing spree, although at an earlier hearing, a psychologist who treated the gunman at the state mental hospital said Alissa had said he wanted to “commit suicide by cop.”

The judge set a tentative trial date for August 2024.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver; Editing by Steve Gorman and Bill Berkrot)