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People trapped in the King Soopers in the Table Mesa Shopping Center when a gunman began shooting are interviewed and tended to by emergency responders in Boulder on March 22, 2021. (Steve Peterson, Special to The Colorado Sun)

The man accused of carrying out one of the worst mass shootings in Colorado history made his first appearance in court on Thursday where his public defenders said they were working to assess the extent of his “mental illness.”

Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, 21, of Arvada, faces at least 10 counts of first-degree murder in connection with the shooting Monday at the Table Mesa King Soopers in Boulder. Ten people were killed.

Each first-degree murder charge carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, 21, of Arvada, appears in court on Thursday, March 25, 2021. (Pool photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post, Pool)

Boulder County District Attorney Michael Dougherty also filed one count of attempted first-degree murder, alleging Alissa tried to kill Boulder police officer Richard Steidell, who survived the shooting.

Dougherty said during the brief hearing that he plans to file more charges against Alissa in the coming weeks, but he did not elaborate.

The case is expected to have a status hearing — essentially a check in for the judge, prosecutors and the defense attorneys — sometime in the next 60 to 90 days.

The suspect quietly acknowledged his rights when asked by 20th Judicial District Judge Thomas F. Mulvahill if he understood them. “Yes,” he softly said in the only words he uttered during the hearing. 

The suspect sat a wheelchair. He was wearing a thin, paper-like shirt. His eyes moved around the room during the hearing and he was wearing a mask over his bushy beard. 

The suspect, who is being held without bond, was surrounded by a number of law enforcement officers. He is being represented by Dan King, the chief trial deputy at the Colorado State Public Defender’s Office. King also represented the Aurora theater shooter.

Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, 21, of Arvada, appears in court on Thursday, March 25, 2021. (Pool photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post, Pool)

“We cannot begin to assess the nature and depth of Mr. Alissa’s mental illness until we have the discovery,” said Kathryn Herold, one of the suspect’s public defenders.

Discovery is the evidence gathered by investigators. Herold did not elaborate on what mental illness she believes Alissa has.

Family members of the suspect told CNN that they thought he suffered from mental illness and that he was paranoid. “He always suspected someone was behind him, someone was chasing him,” Ali Aliwi Alissa, who lived with his younger brother in Arvada, told CNN.

Alissa doesn’t have a criminal history in Colorado beyond pleading guilty to a 2017 assault on a high school classmate. Police say the suspect attacked the classmate without provocation, punching him repeatedly in the head.

The court process is expected to be lengthy, with Dougherty warning it will be at least a year before Alissa goes to trial — if there is a trial. A plea agreement could be reached that would make a trial unnecessary.

The Aurora theater shooting gunman wasn’t sentenced until more than three years after the 2012 attack on the crowded movie theater. That case took such a long time in part because the gunman’s lawyers mounted a mental health defense as prosecutors sought the death penalty. Colorado abolished its death penalty last year.

Ten people, including 51-year-old Boulder police officer Eric Talley, died in the shooting Monday at the King Soopers.

The other victims were: 

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

Alissa was shot in the leg during the event. He was treated at a hospital and moved to the Boulder County jail the day after the shooting.

The Boulder Police Department says its officers used Talley’s handcuffs to formally arrest Alissa at the hospital.

The Colorado Sun —

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Jesse Paul is a Denver-based political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is the author of The Unaffiliated newsletter and also occasionally fills in on breaking news coverage.

A Colorado College graduate, Jesse worked at The Denver Post from June 2014 until July 2018, when he joined The Sun. He was also an intern at The Gazette in Colorado Springs and The News Journal in Wilmington, Delaware, his hometown.

Jesse has won awards for long form feature writing, public service reporting, sustained coverage and deadline news reporting.

Email: Twitter: @jesseapaul