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Suspect in Trader Joe's shootout to represent himself in murder case

Suspect in Trader Joe's shootout to represent himself in murder case
Gene Evin Atkins, pictured here at an earlier hearing, appeared in court Wednesday, where a judge granted his request to represent himself. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

The man accused of holding customers hostage inside a Trader Joe’s this summer will be allowed to represent himself on murder and other charges, a judge ruled Wednesday.

Gene Evin Atkins, who is accused of engaging in a gun battle with Los Angeles police that ended with the shooting death of a Trader Joe’s manager, faces 51 criminal counts, including murder, attempted murder of a peace officer and kidnapping.

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Atkins, 28, made the request during a court hearing after interrupting his court-appointed attorney to address Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Gustavo N. Sztraicher.

“Your honor, I would like to fire my attorney,” he said. “I would like to go pro per.”

The judge warned Atkins that, in his opinion, it was almost always unwise to represent oneself. Atkins would be at a disadvantage, the judge said, explaining that he would face an experienced prosecutor and wouldn’t receive special treatment.

Atkins nodded, saying he understood.

Do you understand that you could receive multiple life sentences, the judge asked?

“Yes,” Atkins responded.

“It is my recommendation that you not represent yourself,” Sztraicher said, before ultimately granting the request, saying he believed Atkins had “knowingly” and “expressly” waived his right to counsel.

Investigators say that on July 21, Atkins shot his grandmother, kidnapped his girlfriend and fired a gun at police officers from his car during a chase that ended in Silver Lake when he crashed into a light post on Hyperion Avenue.

While running into the Trader Joe’s, Atkins fired from his hip and police returned a barrage of bullets, according to dashboard video released by the Los Angeles Police Department. Store manager Melyda Corado, 27, was killed.

At a news conference a few days after the shootout, Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore announced that a bullet from an officer’s gun had killed Corado.

“It’s every officer’s worst nightmare,” Moore said.

An attorney representing Corado’s family has argued that officers had “no tactical plan” and violated department policy when they opened fire even though people were on the sidewalk and inside the store.

Although Atkins did not fire the fatal round, prosecutors charged him under the legal theory known as the “provocative act murder” doctrine, alleging his actions set off a series of events that led to the death.

Atkins is scheduled to be arraigned on Dec. 17.

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