BOULDER COUNTY, Colo. — The suspect accused of killing 10 people at a Boulder King Soopers on March 22, 2021 pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity on Tuesday morning.
Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa was arrested the same day he allegedly shot and killed 10 people, including a Boulder police officer, both inside and outside the King Soopers grocery store at 3600 Table Mesa Drive. He has schizophrenia and his case was stalled. On Tuesday morning, Judge Bakke held a preliminary hearing, where she was tasked with deciding if there was enough evidence for the case to go to trial.
After Alissa's defense team announced his plea, 20th Judicial District Judge Ingrid Bakke listed out what it means and what will happen next. At the end, she confirmed the defendant understood and then accepted the plea.
The judge said the defendant will go back to the state hospital in Pueblo for a sanity examination, which must be completed by Jan. 8, 2024.
Ten people were shot and killed inside or outside the store on March 22, 2021:
- Neven Stanisic, 23
- Jody Waters, 65
- Denny Stong, 20
- Suzanne Fountain, 59
- Tralona Bartkowiak, 49
- Lynn Murray, 62
- Rikki Olds, 25
- Teri Leiker, 51
- Eric Talley, 51
- Kevin Mahoney, 61
The defendant currently faces a slew of charges, including 10 counts of first-degree murder, 47 counts of attempted murder, first-degree assault, and six counts of using a large-capacity magazine in a crime, plus multiple crimes of violence.
He was in court Tuesday for a preliminary hearing, which was a required step to move forward in his prosecution. It had been stalled previously because he had been deemed incompetent since late 2021. In October, Judge Bakke ruled that he was competent and could be prosecuted. Following his arrest, and prior to the incompetency rulings, the original preliminary hearing was scheduled for Sept. 7, 2021.
Throughout Tuesday's hearing, he looked around often.
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In court, 20th Judicial District Attorney Michael Dougherty was the only person between both parties to call a witness, and prosecutors called just one witness: Boulder Police Dept. Det. Sarah Cantu.
Cantu is the lead detective on this case.
The prosecutors made sure the court knew Tuesday's proceedings were a preliminary hearing, not a "mini trial."
As she was questioned by Dougherty, Cantu described the events of the afternoon of March 22, 2021. She was the defendant left his home at 1:21 p.m. and drove toward Boulder, arriving at the grocery store at 2:24 p.m.
As he moved from the parking lot toward the store, armed with a pistol-style rifle, 9 mm handgun and a rifle bag with multiple rounds, he encountered the first victim — Neven Stanisic, 23. Cantu said this happened in the parking lot and the defendant shot through the window and then through a windshield.
The suspect ran east through the parking lot and then saw Kevin Mahoney, 61, who he shot, killing him, Cantu said.
At that point, he entered the store.
Tralona Bartkowiak, 49, was the third victim the defendant shot, Cantu said. The fourth was Rikki Olds, 25. She was the only victim he shot one time, the detective said.
The fifth victim was Denny Stong, 20, who ran toward the store's west doors and was shot in the back, Cantu said.
She said at that point, people in the store started running around or dropping to the ground.
The defendant then killed 62-year-old Lynn Murray and 51-year-old Teri Leiker, who was bagging groceries.
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The eighth victim was Jody Waters, 65, who was shot exactly 69 seconds after the first victim was shot, Cantu confirmed, adding that the defendant had killed four people within 10 seconds.
She described that he seemed to target people who were moving and ignored people on the ground.
The ninth victim was Suzanne Fountain, 59, and final victim was Boulder Police Officer Eric Talley, 51, who entered the store with two other BPD officers. Talley was shot and killed. The other two officers, who could not determine where the shooting was coming from, fell back and stayed near the doorways until a backup team arrived.
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That team, made of six law enforcement officials, then started to make entry. At that time, they were under the impression that there was one to three shooters in the store.
The defendant, who was at one end of an aisle, then began shooting at the police, who were at the opposite end, Cantu said. Boulder Officer Richard Steidell, who had seen the shooter, dropped to the prone position and waited for the suspect to reappear down the aisle. When he did, Steidell exchanged gunfire with him and struck the shooter in the right leg, Cantu said. The shooter then disappeared from view again.
He was shot about 10 minutes after the first victim was shot in the parking lot, the detective said.
Cantu said based on surveillance footage, the defendant limped between the north and south ends of the store.
The defendant was arrested at 3:28 p.m. that afternoon. Cantu said he took all of his clothes off aside from his underwear and dropped his weapons. He was walked out of the store in handcuffs.
Cantu said people were hiding in shelves, upstairs, in checkout lanes, and in cargo areas. She recalled the stories from survivors who were able to flee from the store or hide until the suspect had been arrested. She said one woman, who was at the store with her son, was familiar with firearms and recalled listening for the defendant to begin a magazine change and use that time as an opportunity to run. She explained that a manager for the store's deli helped escort people outside and was nearly shot and killed himself.
The district attorney's office confirmed there were 26 victims of attempted murder, either after deliberation or with extreme indifference or both.
In total, Cantu said police recovered 47 shell casings, meaning at least 47 bullets were fired from the defendant's rifle.
After the suspect's arrest, police recovered three rifle magazines and four handgun magazines in the store, as well as nine rifle magazines in his car, Cantu said. Police looked to see how many could hold 15 rounds or 30 rounds, the latter of which is a high-capacity magazine. In total, six of those magazines could hold 30 rounds, the detective said.
Cantu said those six were found in the following locations:
- Checkout area 13, where the defendant did a magazine change (one)
- Defendant's car (three)
- Aisle 21 (two)
Cantu said the magazines located at the defendant's home could not hold 30 rounds.
Law enforcement looked at the suspect's phone and found notes that included components for riles and tips on how to move and shoot and how to run and shoot. Investigators also determined that the defendant purchased a series of firearms and ammunition between January 2021 and March 16, 2021.
She confirmed that despite an intensive investigation, police have been unable to determine a motive. They did eliminate any connection between him and the store, victims or employees.
Following a brief break, Supervising Deputy State Public Defender Kathryn Herald cross-examined Det. Cantu. She confirmed that the defendant had not had any alcohol or was on any drugs at the time of his arrest.
She said there was a King Soopers close to the defendant's home, but it was not clear why he went to Boulder.
Herald also asked if Cantu had spoken with family members to find a motive, which the detective confirmed, but said investigators were still unable to identify the motive.
At that time, both the prosecutors and defense rested for this preliminary hearing.
DA Dougherty said the defendant moved "quickly and brutally to kill each and every one of the 10 victims," focusing on one person until they had died. He stressed that the defendant moved around the store with intent and was not shooting randomly.
“It speaks to his brutally and also his aim, focus and intent that day," the district attorney said.
“This case highlights why large-capacity magazines and the possession thereof is a crime," he continued. "This defendant came armed and ready to kill as many innocent defenseless and unarmed people as quickly as he could. He killed eight of them within 69 seconds. He was able to do that because of large-capacity magazines.”
Based on Tuesday's testimony of the defendant allegedly carrying six — not 10 — large-capacity magazines, the four counts of using a large-capacity magazine in a crime were dropped.
Judge Bakke said the court had found sufficient evidence to proceed and bond was the next item to be addressed.
DA Dougherty requested a bond that of $500 million, adding that he was going to ask for $1 billion because the bond should reflect "what he did on that day." Deputy State Public Defender Samuel Dunn argued that amount would be preventable detention, which is illegal in Colorado, and requested a lower bond, though he didn't list a specific amount.
The judge decided on setting bond at $100 million cash property surety.
This was followed by Public Defender Herald saying the defendant would enter a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. Judge Bakke accepted the plea and said the defendant would go back to the state hospital in Pueblo for a sanity examination, which must be completed by Jan. 8, 2024.
A trial date will be set after the sanity evaluation is complete. The trial will last three weeks and has a tentative starting date of Aug. 12, 2024.
According to the Associated Press, neither Alissa's attorneys nor anyone else has disputed that he was the gunman. The AP also reported that mental competency involves whether a defendant is able to understand court proceedings and communicate with his lawyers to help his own defense — a different legal issue than a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.
If the defendant is found guilty, he will be sentenced to life in prison. Colorado Gov. Jared Polis repealed the death penalty in March 2020.