DENVER – A 22-year old man accused of fatally shooting 10 people in March at a Colorado supermarket made his second court appearance Tuesday, and a judge scheduled a September hearing to review evidence in the case.
The hearing for suspect Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa lasted about two minutes and did not include any substantive discussion about the case, including his defense team's claim the Alissa suffers from an unspecified mental illness.
At Alissa's first hearing the week of the March 22 attack in Boulder, defense attorney Kathryn Herold said the defense legal team needed two or three months to evaluate his “mental illness” and evidence collected by investigators before proceeding. She did not provide more specific details about his mental health at that time.
A law enforcement official briefed on the shooting previously said that the suspect’s family told investigators they believed Alissa was suffering from some type of mental illness, including delusions. The official was not authorized to speak publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
It was not surprising that Alissa's mental health was not discussed at this point in the proceedings because he has not been asked to enter a plea to the charges yet, said Karen Steinhauser, a criminal defense lawyer and former Denver prosecutor. If the judge decides he should stand trial at the September hearing, Alissa's lawyers could then raise arguments about what his mental health was on the day of the attack as part of his defense, she said.
The separate issue of competency — whether or not defendants can currently understand court proceedings and help their lawyers defend them — is another issue that can be raised at any time, said Steinhauser, noting that many mentally ill people would be capable of assisting in their defense. If Alissa's lawyers were concerned about his competency now, she would have expected them to raise that issue before going ahead with more proceedings.
In the case of the 2012 Colorado theater shooting, James Holmes' lawyers first raised concerns about his mental illness within a month of the attack. But the judge did not accept a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity offered by his lawyers until nearly a year after. Under Colorado law, that meant he admitted committing the attack but believed he was not responsible because he couldn’t tell right from wrong. His lawyers later said he committed the attack “in the throes of a psychotic episode.”
The courtroom was closed to the public because of coronavirus public health safety restrictions, with video of the proceedings aired online.
Photos from the lone media photographer allowed inside showed Alissa wearing an orange-and-white jail uniform and a white mask. He said nothing during the hearing as he sat by himself in the courtroom's jury box, a few feet from his attorneys.
Alissa is accused of killing nine shoppers and workers inside and outside the store and one of the first three police officers who entered the store.
Alissa has also been charged with attempted first-degree murder for allegedly firing at 26 other people, including 11 law enforcement officers. He is also accused of unlawfully possessing 10 high-capacity ammunition magazines, devices banned in Colorado after previous mass shootings.
Investigators have not released a possible motive for the attack. District Attorney Michael Dougherty has said there was no indication that Alissa, who was from the nearby suburb of Arvada, had ever visited the supermarket before.
Associated Press writer Michael Balsamo in Washington contributed to this report.