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Boulder DA asks to appoint doctor to reevaluate mental competency of grocery store shooting suspect

The suspect has been undergoing treatment at a state mental health hospital after allegedly opening fire at a Colorado grocery store in 2021, killing 10.

(CN) — Nearly two years after a man shot and killed 10 at a grocery store in Boulder, Colorado, the district attorney is looking to appoint a new doctor to evaluate the suspect deemed mentally incompetent to stand trial.

On March 22, 2021, prosecutors say Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa opened fire on the King Soopers grocery store in the Table Mesa neighborhood of Boulder, Colorado, with a Ruger AR-556 assault-style weapon and a semiautomatic handgun.

Prosecutors charged the 21-year-old with 10 counts of first-degree murder and more than 30 counts of attempted murder. If convicted, Alissa faces life in prison without parole since Colorado lawmakers repealed the death penalty in 2020.

The bar to stand trial is fairly low: a defendant must understand the charges against them well enough to help defend themselves.

Since he was deemed mentally incompetent to stand trial, Alissa has been undergoing treatment at the state mental hospital in Pueblo. It is unclear when or if he will be found fit to stand trial.

Twentieth District Judge Ingrid Bakke called District Attorney Michael Dougherty’s request to pick a doctor to perform a forensic neurological assessment unique.

“We object to what the government is trying to do because we believe it is clearly a violation of Mr. Alissa’s constitutional rights,” said public defender Kathryn Herold. “We are not aware of any statute that would allow the government to select a doctor to evaluate our incompetent client.”

Bakke gave the defense three weeks to file a formal response. Bakke will then decide whether to hold a hearing before issuing a ruling.

According to the Colorado Department of Human Services, 1,567 defendants were referred to the state for competency restoration in 2021. That’s nearly triple the rate it was in 2017, when just 553 defendants entered state custody for treatment.

Nearly a quarter of patients undergoing state treatment in Colorado were deemed restored that year, according to the government agency. This number does not include patients who were removed from treatment after charges were dropped, which is also a common outcome for individuals deemed mentally incompetent and accused of nonviolent crimes.

Research published in the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law estimates 75 to 90% of defendants nationally are restored to competency within six months of treatment. A limited survey also found older defendants less likely to be restored and that the longer a defendant undergoes treatment, the less likely it is to work.

The victims of the 2021 attack in Boulder aged 20 to 65 years old, included three King Soopers employees, several shoppers and a police officer.

Boulder Police Officer Eric Talley, 51, had been with the police department since 2010 and was father to seven kids. Authorities identified the other nine victims as Denny Stong, 20; Neven Stanisic, 23; Rikki Olds, 25; Tralona Bartkowiak, 49; Suzanne Fountain, 59; Teri Leiker, 51; Kevin Mahoney, 61; Lynn Murray, 62; and Jody Waters, 65.

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