A man accused of triggering a gunbattle that resulted in a Trader Joe’s assistant manager being shot to death by Los Angeles police, and a subsequent standoff inside the Silver Lake store where he allegedly took more than a dozen people hostage, will be allowed to act as his own attorney, a judge ruled Wednesday.
During a late-afternoon court session, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Gustavo Sztraicher granted Gene Evin Atkins’ request to represent himself on murder and other charges after warning the 28-year-old defendant that it was, in his opinion, “almost always an unwise decision to represent yourself” and that the case against him was being handled by an experienced criminal prosecutor, Deputy District Attorney Tannaz Mokayef.
Atkins — who could face life in prison if convicted as charged — told the judge that he understood and wanted to go forward defending himself.
He remains jailed in lieu of $15.1 million bail while awaiting arraignment Dec. 17.
The ruling came hours after the defendant — who’s also accused of shooting his grandmother and his 17-year-old girlfriend — told the judge, “I would like to fire my attorney.”
In addition to the murder count stemming from the July 21 killing of Melyda Maricela Corado, Atkins is facing 50 other counts, including attempted murder of a police officer, attempted murder, assault on a peace officer with a semi-automatic firearm, false imprisonment by violence and kidnapping, second-degree robbery, attempted carjacking, assault with a firearm, mayhem, and fleeing a pursuing police officer’s vehicle while driving recklessly.
Los Angeles police Chief Michel Moore confirmed July 24 that the bullet that killed Corado was fired by a police officer, not Atkins, who surrendered to SWAT officers after about three hours of negotiations.
“This is a heartbreaking reminder of the split-second decisions that officers must make every day,” an emotional Moore said then. “And it is also a sobering reminder of the destruction a lone individual with a handgun can create.”
Even though he did not shoot Corado, Atkins was charged with her killing under the theory that he set off the chain of events that led to the 27-year-old woman’s death.
In the hours leading up to the standoff, Atkins allegedly shot his 76-year-old grandmother and his 17-year-old girlfriend in South Los Angeles. He’s accused of kidnapping the teen and forcing her into his grandmother’s car, which he crashed into a light pole in front of the Trader Joe’s market in the 2700 block of Hyperion Avenue at the end of a police chase and fled inside, while exchanging gunfire with pursuing officers.
“As Atkins exited his vehicle, witnesses reported they observed Atkins shoot at the officers. The officers exited their vehicle and returned fire as Atkins ran towards the entrance of Trader Joe’s,” Moore told reporters.
The police chief said the two officers — one a six-year veteran, the other a two-year veteran — fired a total of eight shots in return. One of them struck Atkins in the left arm, but he continued running inside. Another struck Corado, traveling through her arm and into her body, Moore said. The woman managed to stumble back inside the store after being shot, collapsing behind the manager’s station.
She was carried out of the business by others in the store, but paramedics were unable to save her.
Moore — who described the officers as being “devastated” — said he believes they did “what they needed to do in order to defend the people of Los Angeles and defend the people in that store and defend themselves.”
The police chief said Atkins fired additional rounds at police from inside the store, but officers did not return fire.
Several store employees and customers were able to escape from the store, while others were released by Atkins at various times before he surrendered, according to the police chief.
Relatives of Corado’s family filed claims for damages last month against the Los Angeles Police Department. Those claims — precursors to a lawsuit — allege civil rights violations, battery, excessive force, negligence, infliction of emotional distress, failure to adequately train officers and conspiracy to cover up wrongful misconduct.