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Psychologist, family member react to competency ruling for King Soopers shooting suspect

A Boulder judge found the King Soopers shooting suspect not competent to stand trial.

BOULDER, Colo. — As the months pass, Bob Olds says it's the continuing and overwhelming support of the community that he believes speaks to the type of person his niece, Rikki Olds, was. 

"She touched so many lives being, you know, just in that store and being that frontline person who greeted people and made them laugh and you know had that charismatic personality that she had. I think she’s touched those lives," he said. 

Rikki Olds was one of 10 people killed in the shooting at a King Soopers in Boulder. 

RELATED: Celebration of life service held for Boulder shooting victim Rikki Olds

On Friday, a judge found the shooting suspect incompetent to stand trial. 

During a hearing, prosecutors asked the judge to send the suspect to the state hospital in Pueblo, where he is expected to undergo treatment that could restore his competency so they can proceed. 

"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," said Boulder District Attorney Michael Dougherty after the hearing. 

The next hearing for the suspect is scheduled for March 15. 

For Bob Olds, the extended wait time for a trial to begin is frustrating. 

“You know that’s another level of frustration there. You know, it’s just not getting to the point. You know, this trial starting and getting this thing moving so we can get to the grieving stage and ultimately at the end of this hopefully find some closure," he said. 

Credit: Luis de Leon
Bob Olds, the uncle of Rikki Olds, sits next to a memorial dedicated to Rikki.

It's a ruling that 9NEWS Psychology Expert Dr. Max Wachtel isn't surprised by. 

"I think the courts want to be, you know, safe rather than sorry. You know, they want to make sure that everybody has due process. They want to make sure that everybody's constitutional rights are upheld," he said. 

He has experience with hundreds of competency evaluations and competency restoration treatments. 

He says doctors study a few things, including if the defendant has a mental illness or a developmental disability. 

"And if so, does that problem then cause them to be unable right now to understand what's going on when they're in court? Or does it cause them to be unable to work with their attorney rationally to help with their defense?" he explained. 

When it comes to competency restoration treatment, it's comprised a few different things, he says, including general therapy and psychiatric treatment. 

"A lot of people will take medication to improve and to reduce the symptoms of their mental illness. And then on top of that, there are what are called restoration classes or competency restoration classes where the person will learn about, you know, what happens in court, who all of the key players are. What types of important conversations they should have with their attorney," he said. "There are great tests that have been developed that you can give people that that look at their ability to understand what is going on with court and plea bargaining and and all of that."

Competency is not the same as a defendant arguing "insanity," he went on to say. 

"That is a person saying, I did this action, but I should not be held criminally responsible because of my severe mental illness. And I don't understand right from wrong or I didn't understand right from wrong at the time," he said. 

A few factors that could cause a more significant delay in the legal proceedings during this process, is if the defendant is unwilling to participate in treatment. 

"For example, you know, then the defendant has to go back to court to have a very special hearing on whether or not forced medications are going to be used and all of that that can slow things down. And then, depending on his exact mental illness, sometimes, you know, mental illnesses can respond very quickly to treatment and to medication. Other times it takes a while," he explained. "Competency is a temporary roadblock to the person's legal case and their trial, but it's not a permanent roadblock."

RELATED: Boulder King Soopers to reopen in January

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