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Boulder Shooting Suspect Makes 1st Court Appearance

A sign framed with flowers lists victims' names on a fence outside a King Soopers grocery store in Boulder, Colo. The suspect in the mass shooting made his first court appearance on Thursday.
Jason Connolly
AFP via Getty Images
A sign framed with flowers lists victims' names on a fence outside a King Soopers grocery store in Boulder, Colo. The suspect in the mass shooting made his first court appearance on Thursday.

Updated March 25, 2021 at 12:12 PM ET

The suspect in the Boulder, Colo. grocery store shooting that left 10 people dead made his first appearance in court Thursday in a brief hearing that called for a mental health assessment. On Wednesday night, hundreds of people gathered to mourn the victims and support those affected by senseless gun violence.

Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, 21, is facing 10 counts of murder in the first degree and one count of attempted murder over the horrific attack at a King Soopers supermarket. The victims include a police officer who responded to calls for help. The ages of those who died range from 20 to 65.

Alissa appeared in court alongside his attorney, Kathryn Herold of the Colorado Public Defender's Office. Alissa wore a white face mask and what looked to be a purple hospital gown. Because of an injury to his leg, the suspect was seated in a wheelchair.

"Our position is that we cannot do anything until we are able to fully assess Mr. Alissa's mental illness," Herold told the court as she requested a delay. She did not go into detail about what that illness might be.

Herold asked for a three-month delay before a preliminary hearing, noting the need to assess her client as well as the pending arrival of evidence and records from the ongoing investigation into the shooting — a discovery process she predicted will be "voluminous."

District Judge Thomas Mulvahill agreed to Herold's request after Boulder County District Attorney Michael Dougherty noted that his office will file additional charges against Alissa "in the next couple weeks."

While Dougherty did not object to the delay for a mental health assessment, he asked for a shorter time frame, of a month and a half.

The judge did not set a bond for the suspect, meaning he will stay in jail as the case moves to the next steps.

Speaking to reporters outside the courthouse after the hearing, Dougherty was asked if he believes a "fair" jury can be convened in Boulder.

"I'm confident that in the state of Colorado, and particularly here in Boulder County, that we could find 12 people who will be fair and who will be opened-minded and reach the right verdict when the time comes," he said.

Explaining the attempted murder charge Alissa is facing, the prosecutor said the charge refers to a police officer whom the suspect fired at but did not injure.

Dougherty also noted that in Colorado, homicide cases commonly take at least a year to be tried to completion.

"This is the beginning of a lengthy process," he said.

The case will be assigned to Chief Judge Ingrid Bakke; rather than set a date for the next hearing in the case, Mulvahill told the attorneys from both sides to be in touch with Bakke about the next proceeding.

"The first-degree murder charges carry the possibly of a sentence of life without parole," NPR member station Colorado Public Radio reported. "Colorado abolished the death penalty last year."

The suspect is from Arvada, a suburb between Denver and Boulder. Before this week, Alissa had a criminal record that included a guilty plea to a misdemeanor assault charge in 2018. He paid a fine to resolve that case, according to court records.

Alissa surrendered to police after suffering a gunshot wound to his leg. That injury, a "through-and-through" wound, was treated at a hospital before Alissa was taken to the Boulder County Jail. He was taken into custody after removing most of his clothing – jeans, a long-sleeve shirt and a tactical vest – and walking backward toward police, according to an arrest warrant affidavit.

Along with Alissa's clothes, police recovered "a rifle (possible AR-15)" and a semiautomatic handgun, the court document states.

The arrest warrant affidavit for Alissa said he purchased a gun less than a week before the King Soopers shooting, citing official databases that show he bought a Ruger AR-556 on March 16.

The weapon used in the shooting is legally classified as a "pistol" in the U.S., but many people would likely consider it to be a rifle — and the affidavit repeatedly refers to it as one. The gun has the same lower receiver, the shell-like piece that houses the trigger, as AR-15 rifles that have been used in many other mass shootings in the United States.

The victims from Monday's shooting are Denny Stong, 20; Nevin Stanisic, 23; Rikki Olds, 25; Tralona Bartkowiak, 49; Suzanne Fountain, 59; Teri Leiker, 51; Eric Talley, 51; Kevin Mahoney, 61; Lynn Murray, 62; and Jody Waters, 65.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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