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Case against King Soopers shooting suspect is on hold, but could proceed soon

The state mental health hospital said there is a "substantial probability that the suspect will likely be restored to competency within the reasonable future."

BOULDER, Colo. — One year after the shooting at a Boulder King Soopers that left 10 people dead, the case against the suspected shooter is on hold indefinitely due to concerns about his mental health.

The case has been on hold since Dec. 3, when the judge ruled the suspected shooter was not competent to stand trial, and confined him to the state mental health hospital in Pueblo.

Recently, however, the hospital said there is a "substantial probability that the suspect will likely be restored to competency within the reasonable future." 

"I and the victims' families were heartened by what we heard from the doctors," Boulder District Attorney Michael Dougherty told 9NEWS. 

Dr. Max Wachtel, a forensic psychiatrist, said based on history, the chances of the suspect being restored to competency are high. He said most criminal defendants found to be incompetent are eventually restored to competency through the use of medications and therapy. 

"Sometimes it happens very quickly," he said. "Sometimes it might take six months or a year. But it almost always happens." 

If it does happen, and the case goes to trial, the suspect's lawyers may pursue an insanity defense. 9NEWS legal analyst Scott Robinson said that would be a difficult case to win.

"It's statistically very difficult for a defendant to 'get off' on an insanity plea," he said. "It's a fraction of percentage. Less than 5%. The vast majority of the time, jurors find that a person knew the difference between right and wrong at the time they committed the act." 

Ahmad Alissa has been in custody since the March 22, 2021 shooting at the grocery store on Table Mesa Drive.

The victims include:

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

Suspect charged

Alissa was taken into custody on the day of the shooting and initially held on 10 charges of first-degree murder. In the weeks after the shooting many additional charges were added. He's now charged with 115 counts, which includes 47 sentence enhancers, that would result in harsher penalties if he's convicted.

The other 68 charges are:

  • 10 counts of first-degree murder
  • 27 counts of attempted first-degree murder of civilians
  • 20 counts of attempting first-degree murder of law enforcement
  • One count of first-degree assault
  • 10 counts of using a prohibited large capacity magazine during a crime

There are 26 victims of attempted murder, according to prosecutors. Fifteen of them are civilians and 11 are members are law enforcement. There is one charge for each of them, but some may be named more than once, which is why there are more charges than victims, according to prosecutors.

They said the lone charge of assault is related to a woman who fell while fleeing from the store and fractured a vertebra in her spine.

RELATED: New charges filed against suspected King Soopers shooter

On Sept. 1, about a week before a preliminary hearing was scheduled in the case, the defense team for Alissa filed a notice with the court that they planned to raise the issue of competency for their client.

On Dec. 3, Judge Ingrid Bakke ruled that Alissa was incompetent to stand trial after four different doctors who evaluated him said they believed he was currently unable to stand trial.

Two doctors concluded that Alissa could understand the charges against him, and the potential sentence, but had limited ability to meaningfully converse with others. They said that prevented him from assisting with his own defense and caused concern about "potential over-reliance on his attorneys."

RELATED: Boulder judge finds King Soopers shooting suspect incompetent to stand trial

"This case is by no means over," Dougherty said in December. "This is certainly a delay, and it's upsetting to everybody. The victims' groups, the families, the prosecution. But it's also a step we need to take to get him back here as quickly as possible so we can move forward and ensure that justice is done."

Alissa was transported into Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo (CMHIP) custody on Dec. 15.

Bakke ordered that CMHIP provide restoration reports every 30 days for its first three reports, with the first one to include information about the likelihood that his competency could be restored to the point where a trial could move forward.

RELATED: State hospital failed to provide mental health reports for King Soopers shooting suspect

On Jan. 31, Bakke issued an order asking for a progress report from CMHIP because none had been provided to the court even though more than 30 days had passed. Two weeks later, she issued a show cause order, requiring a representative of CMHIP to appear in court on March 10 to explain why no reports had been submitted.

The order was later withdrawn and the hearing was vacated because the initial report was filed, court records show.

The case is due back in court April 15, when a progress report from the hospital is due.

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