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‘I’m pleading insanity,’ suspect in Trader Joe’s shootout tells judge

‘I’m pleading insanity,’ suspect in Trader Joe’s shootout tells judge
Gene Evin Atkins, shown at an earlier hearing, appeared Monday in a downtown L.A. court where he told the judge he wanted to plead insanity. Atkins is defending himself at trial. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

The man charged with holding customers hostage inside a Trader Joe’s this summer insisted in court Monday that he was insane at the time of the incident.

Gene Evin Atkins — who is accused of engaging in a gun battle with Los Angeles police that ended with the shooting death of a store manager — arrived in a downtown courtroom not only as a criminal defendant but as his own attorney.

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“I’m pleading insanity,” said Atkins, 28, who faces 51 criminal counts, including murder, attempted murder of a peace officer and kidnapping.

Police 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 from Hollywood to Silver Lake. After smashing into a light post on Hyperion Avenue, Atkins ran toward the grocery store’s entrance and fired from his hip, authorities say. Officers returned a barrage of bullets, according to dashboard video footage released by the Los Angeles Police Department a few days after the shooting.

A bullet from an officer’s gun fatally struck store manager Melyda Maricela Corado, 27, whose family filed a wrongful death suit against the city and two LAPD officers last month. Prosecutors charged Atkins with Corado’s death 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.

In court Monday, L.A. County Superior Court Judge Teresa Sullivan asked Atkins if he had reviewed a list of the crimes he’s accused of committing.

“No,” he responded.

Sullivan nodded, asking Deputy Dist. Atty. Tannaz Mokayef to read the criminal charges aloud.

As the prosecutor read the first count — Corado’s murder — a woman seated toward the front of the courtroom, who identified herself as one of the hostages, let out a long sigh. The second count read was the attempted murder of Mary Madison — “your grandmother,” the prosecutor told Atkins. He stared expressionless from behind a wooden partition.

Atkins asked to have his arraignment postponed, but the judge denied the request. Did he want to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty? she asked.

“Insanity,” he responded.

Sullivan again asked for a plea of guilty or not guilty.

“I’m pleading insanity,” Atkins said.

The judge said she would enter a not guilty plea on his behalf, noting that Atkins was previously found competent to represent himself at trial.

Atkins, who wore yellow jail scrubs and had his hands cuffed in front of his waist, told the judge he had “an extensive mental health record” and had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

“I would like to set the matter for arraignment,” Atkins said.

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“The arraignment’s happened,” the judge said, telling the defendant that after the hearing he would receive a box of about 5,000 pages of evidence, which he could use to prepare his defense.

“My defense has already been prepared,” he said.

Atkins faces life in prison if convicted on all counts. He is scheduled to return to court on Feb. 15.

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