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Defense asks for mental health evaluation for Boulder shooting suspect

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Boulder shooter Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa makes court appearance 4
Posted at 9:33 AM, Mar 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-25 22:11:01-04

BOULDER, Colo. — In a short first appearance Thursday morning, lawyers for the suspect in the mass shooting in Boulder Monday said they would need to assess his mental health before another hearing takes place.

Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, the 21-year-old suspect in the shooting, made his first appearance Thursday in Boulder County District Court. He was pushed into the court in a wheelchair. He was wearing a white mask over his beard and looked around the courtroom throughout the hearing.

Boulder shooter Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa makes court appearance 9
BOULDER, CO - MARCH 25: Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, 21, appears before Boulder District Court Judge Thomas Mulvahill at the Boulder County Justice Center in Boulder, Colorado on March 25, 2021. Alissa is suspected of shooting and killing 10 people at a King Soopers grocery store in Boulder on Monday, March 22. The Boulder County district attorney charged Alissa with 11 counts in connection to the shooting. Alissa has been held in jail since his arrest Monday at the scene of the shooting on suspicion of 10 counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post, Pool)

Judge Thomas Mulvahill presided over the hearing, which began at 8:15 a.m. He started by advising the suspect of his rights as a defendant. When asked if he understood his rights, the suspect said "yes" — the only words he stated during the hearing.

Mulvahill said 11 charges were filed against the suspect — 10 counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted first-degree murder. District Attorney Michael Dougherty confirmed the suspect had been formally charged while speaking with reporters after the hearing, and noted the attempted murder charge stemmed from an alleged attempt to kill a police officer who had responded to the scene.

The suspect's attorney, Colorado Public Defender Kathryn Herold, asked for a status conference before the proof evident, presumption great hearing and preliminary hearing to evaluate the suspect's mental health.

"We cannot begin to assess the nature and depths of Mr. Alissa's mental illness until we have the discovery from the government," she said.

District Attorney Michael Dougherty did not object to this, but added that he expects to file additional charges in the next few weeks. He didn't expand on that statement, but said he'd provide more information once the crime scene processing was complete, which would likely be in the coming days.

Judge Mulvahill said the status conference would be set in the next 60 to 90 days.

Explaining Boulder suspect's first court appearance, and question around his mental health

After the hearing, Dougherty added that it's too early to comment on an insanity defense or if the suspect is unfit to stand trial.

He said the suspect is being held without bond and without the possibility of release.

Dougherty said the defense has asked for a status conference, which will be the next step in the case.

Following that, the suspect would be entitled to a proof evident, presumption great hearing to determine that the case should move forward and that the suspect should be held without bond, which will be conducted unless it is waived, Dougherty said.

"I will say, as in other mass shootings and tragedies in Colorado, the response has been incredible," he said. "Federal, state and local agencies are partnering together and the teamwork is exactly what it should be. And that’s why I’m confident that we will be able to secure the right result in this case."

District Attorney Michael Dougherty speaks after King Soopers suspect's court appearance

Dougherty said this is the beginning of a lengthy process that he anticipates will take at least a year to complete.

"(This) will be a long journey to justice for the victims, their loved ones, and this community," he said. "And I can promise you every step of the way, we are going to fight incredibly hard to secure the right outcome in this case."

READ MORE: How to help victims of the Boulder King Soopers shooting

This sentiment was echoed by Former District Attorney George Brachleur, who spoke to Denver7 on the long process o a murder trial on Wednesday. He prosecuted the suspect in the Aurora theater shooting trial and said there are several ways the Boulder suspect's trial could face a delay.

Typically, the defense will take several months to prepare for a preliminary hearing and then it takes several months to schedule an arraignment, where the defendant could formally enter a plea.

Suspect in Boulder King Soopers shooting expected to make first court appearance Thursday morning

Brachleur said if a defendant enters a plea of insanity, that could delay the case by six or nine months.

"The other thing I would tell people, though, is this: That guy at the Aurora theater, he was mentally ill. But there is a giant Grand Canyon gap between mentally ill and legally insane, and I think that's some of what we're going to explore in this case as well," Brauchler said.

Defense attorney David Lane, who has represented people accused of mass shootings, said asking for a mental health evaluation is typical in these kinds of cases and that one of the only defenses that can be made in cases like these would be a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. But he says it is rare that those pleas hold up through trial.

"So, again, there are a number of people who have very serious mental illnesses that will never achieve the level necessary for an insanity defense," Lane said.

Meanwhile, the prosecution will likely try to not offer the suspect any sort of fame — including saying his name — for the crimes he's accused of.

If he's ultimately convicted of the crimes, he will not face the death penalty, but instead will spend the rest of his life in prison. Colorado repealed the state’s death penalty last year.

Thursday night, the Boulder County Sheriff's Office confirmed the suspect remains under their custody, but jail staff became aware of safety concerns and threats, so he now has to be housed at another correctional facility outside of Boulder County.

According to an affidavit for the suspect’s arrest, he started shooting around 2:40 p.m. Monday and was taken into custody at 3:28 p.m. Officers recovered a tactical vest, a rifle that the affidavit says was a “possible AR-15,” a semiautomatic handgun, a pair of jeans and a long-sleeve shirt. The affidavit says that he had taken off all of his clothes except for a pair of shorts and was bleeding on his right leg due to a through-and-through gunshot wound just before his arrest.

The suspect had also bought a Ruger AR-556 pistol on March 16, just six days before the shooting, according to the affidavit. The weapon can carry 10 or 30 rounds.

Ten people died in the shooting:

  • Denny Stong, 20
  • Neven Stanisic, 23
  • Rikki Olds, 25
  • Tralona Bartkowiak, 49
  • Suzanne Fountain, 59
  • Teri Leiker, 51
  • Officer Eric Talley, 51
  • Kevin Mahoney, 61
  • Lynn Murray, 62
  • Jody Waters, 65

Denver7's Liz Gelardi contributed to this report.