A man accused of triggering a gun battle that resulted in a Trader Joe’s assistant manager being shot to death by Los Angeles police and a standoff inside the store last summer told a judge Friday that he was “sent here by Jesus” and didn’t understand anything.
“I don’t know what’s going on, sir,” Gene Evin Atkins said when Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Francis Bennett II asked the 29-year-old defendant if he would be ready within 30 days for a hearing to determine if there is sufficient evidence to require him to stand trial on 51 counts, including murder, attempted murder and false imprisonment of a hostage.
“God bless you sir,” Atkins repeatedly told the judge, later telling him that “I was sent here by Jesus” and that he was a “prophet.”
Deputy District Attorney Tannaz Mokayef — who noted that Atkins had articulated stated his desire to act as his own attorney at a hearing last November and his objection to a media request to film a court hearing in December — told the judge “what you’re witnessing here today is an act” to delay the proceedings.
The judge ordered Atkins to return to the downtown Los Angeles courtroom next Thursday.
At the hearing last December, Atkins told Judge Teresa Sullivan that he has no criminal record, but has an “extensive mental health record” that includes a diagnosis of “bipolar disorder and a list of other disorders, as well.” He unsuccessfully tried to plead insanity at that hearing, but the judge entered a not guilty plea on his behalf.
The murder charge against Atkins stems from with the July 21 shooting death of Melyda Maricela Corado, who was fatally wounded in front of the market in the 2700 block of Hyperion Avenue.
Los Angeles police Chief Michel Moore confirmed last year 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.
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 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 Trader Joe’s 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 toward 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.
Corado 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.
Atkins — who has remained jailed since his arrest that day — is being held in lieu of $15.1 million bail.
Relatives of Corado filed a civil lawsuit Nov. 29 against the city of Los Angeles and two LAPD officers, saying they were still seeking answers about the shooting that the city and police department have refused to provide.
Attorney John C. Taylor, representing Corado’s father and brother, called the fatal shooting an “out-of-policy” shooting in which no tactical plan was established. He said Trader Joe’s had no liability in the shooting and that the store “was as much a victim as Mely Corado.”