LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – More than a year after the Silver Lake Trader Joe’s shooting and standoff, some of the hostages recounted the terrifying day in court Wednesday.
The preliminary hearing began Wednesday to determine if 29-year-old Gene Evin Atkins will have to stand trial on multiple charges after a Trader Joe’s assistant manager was fatally shot when a gun battle broke out after a police pursuit ended with a standoff inside the store.
Atkins was charged with 51 different counts, including the slaying of 27-year-old Melyda Maricela Corado on July 21, 2018.
Atkins was accused of kidnapping his teen girlfriend 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 pursuit.
He then fled inside of the market while exchanging gunfire with pursuing officers.
An over three-hour standoff ensued between police and Atkins, as he held people hostage inside the store.
Several store employees and customers were able to escape from the store, while others were released by Atkins at various times before he surrendered.
Victims held hostage in Trader Joes gave gut-wrenching testimony Wednesday reliving the three terrifying hours on that afternoon in July.
One witness, a young woman, could be seen in the store security camera holding her hands up.
She described the moment the gunman, identified by witnesses and others as Atkins, ordered a store employee to pick out one of the hostages.
“I assumed he was picking somebody to shoot,” the unidentified female victim said.
She testified that Atkins was standing, gun in hand, behind the computer.
“The gunman was on phone with police and at one point we looked up and there was sharpshooter across the street…he demanded that if the sharpshooter didn’t leave in five seconds he was going to count down from five and we’re going to be dragged out in body bags,” she said.
She then described that Atkins was looking directly at her while he counted down from five.
“I made eye contact with him….he stopped because the sharpshooter left the scene,” she recalled.
The next witness, a man in his thirties, testified he heard a crash, ran into a sliding glass door in front of the store and said he saw Atkins jump out of a car.
“He pulled out a gun and started shooting at the cops,” said the unidentified male witness.
Corado was shot by police in front of the store and managed to stumble back inside, collapsing behind the manager’s station.
The witness testified he noticed Corado bleeding on the floor behind the counter.
“I went over there to jiggle her to see is she was alive,” he said.
He said he couldn’t feel a pulse and he and an employee carried her out, but paramedics were unable to save her.
Though Atkins did not shoot Corado, he was charged with her killing under the theory that he set off the chain of events that led to Corado’s death.
At a court hearing last December, Atkins told the judge 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.”
Atkins unsuccessfully tried to plead insanity at that hearing and in February, told a judge that he was a prophet “sent here by Jesus” and didn’t understand anything.
After acting as his own lawyer, Atkins was appointed an attorney.
The 51 counts Atkins is charged with include murder, attempted murder and false imprisonment of a hostage.
(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)