KENNEWICK — The gunman accused of killing a man inside the Richland’s Fred Meyer grocery store pleaded innocent by reason of insanity on Wednesday.
Aaron C. Kelly, 40, is charged with premeditated first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder for the attack in February 2022 that left an Instacart shopper dead and a store employee wounded.
His trial is scheduled for May 8.
The criminal case had been on hold for more than a year after his court-appointed attorneys asked for a mental evaluation to determine if Kelly was competent to stand trial. Evaluators eventually determined he suffers from schizophrenia.
After several months of treatment and a contested hearing, Judge Diana Ruff ruled last month that Kelly is now able to understand the court proceedings and to be tried.
On Wednesday, Kelly’s defense attorney Karla Kane said an expert is expected to provide a report within a week detailing how Kelly’s delusions a year ago prevented him from understanding what he was doing was illegal.
Benton County Deputy Prosecutor Brandon Pang said he needed to have that report before having Kelly evaluated again at Eastern State Hospital.
This time the psychologists and psychiatrists would act as experts for the state of Washington.
If a jury finds him innocent, then a judge will need to determine if he still poses a risk to society. If he does, then he would receive treatment at a mental hospital until he doesn’t. That could be for the rest of his life.
Fred Meyer shooting
Kelly is accused of walking into the Fred Meyer on Wellsian Way about 11 a.m. on Feb. 7, 2022. He had a brief conversation with Justin Krumbah, 38, and shot him, according to investigators.
Kelly then shot and wounded store employee Mark Hill, 56, three times near the customer service desk, according to court documents.
Kelly stayed in the store for a few minutes before leaving and eventually emptying his bank account and heading out of town.
He was arrested 11 hours later driving on Interstate 90 near southwest of Spokane in Eastern Washington.
A defense expert, Daniel Lord-Flynn, testified in February 2023 that Kelly believes that there is an “entity” made up of shadowy government organizations influencing events around him.
His paranoia is driven by the belief if he shares information it will be used by the “entity” against him, Lord-Flynn testified. He also believes they can read his mind.
Kelly’s beliefs extend to thinking that this group of intelligence agencies fabricated the shooting.
The delusions appear to have started after Kelly moved back in with his parents in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Prior to that, he had been a teacher in Texas.
While in Idaho, he worked on a piecemeal basis doing technical writing. His mother noticed he was becoming more suspicious, believing that someone was hacking into his computer.
At one point a relative suggested that the CIA was involved and he “caught that idea and seemed to go with it,” Lord-Flynn said.
His parents eventually asked him to leave, and he moved into a Airbnb in a west Pasco house.
Kelly’s odd behavior and inability to pay rent became a problem that eventually forced the owner of the home to sell his house in order to evict him.
From then on Kelly was living in his car. His parents tried to rent a hotel room for him to stay in, but Lord-Flynn said Kelly would often just continue staying in his car.
At times, he believed everyone in the Tri-Cities was part of a conspiracy.
Attorneys and experts have not said publicly if there are any known connections between his paranoia and the shooting.
While the Lord-Flynn delved into Kelly’s history, the evaluator from Eastern State Hospital, Richard Yocum, wasn’t allowed to interview Kelly about the specifics of his delusions.
The state evaluators will work to determine if those delusions stopped him from understanding what he was doing.