UPDATE: Details emerge about VA homicide suspect

Wednesday, February 6, 2013 | 8:19 p.m. CST; updated 6:43 p.m. CST, Thursday, February 7, 2013

*This story has been updated to include information about Perez's transfer to Boone County Jail.

COLUMBIA — The man suspected of killing a patient at the Truman Veterans Hospital on Friday went from being a law-abiding citizen to a repeat offender with law enforcement in only one week, police say.

Rudy Perez Jr., 33, of Sedalia, has been held at Boone County Jail since Wednesday. He was arrested Monday on suspicion of first-degree murder by the Columbia Police Department. His bail is set at $1 million.

Pettis County Sheriff Kevin Bond said his officers had no contact with Perez before last week when he became a suspect in multiple assaults and a burglary. Now, he is accused of a fatal assault on Robert O. Hill, 78, of Warsaw, a patient on the second floor of the hospital.

"It's tragic," Bond said.

According to the probable cause statement, on Friday Perez struck Hill on the head and face at the veterans hospital. The two were separated, and after Perez calmed down and Hill’s injuries were treated, they were allowed in the common area together. Three hours later, Perez allegedly attacked Hill again, forcing him onto the floor, kneeling over him and striking him multiple times in the face and head, according to the statement.

The second assault occurred at about 6:30 p.m., and Hill was transported to University Hospital's emergency room where he was pronounced dead at 10:30 p.m.

At the time of the homicide, a VA police officer was present and able to physically force Perez away from Hill and escort him to another room, according to the statement.

Sgt. Joe Bernhard, Columbia police spokesman, said Perez was kept in a secure, local area before his arrest Monday. Police declined to say where he was being held, but confirmed he is not at the Boone County Jail. Suspects in such cases are often taken to the Biggs Unit at Fulton State Hospital.

Detective Bryan Liebhart said the police did not arrest him until prosecutors had officially filed charges against him.

Bond said Perez was in a series of fights the week before his arrest in Columbia, but, as far as he knew, Perez did not have issues with law enforcement beforehand.

On Jan. 29, Perez was arrested by the Sedalia Police Department on suspicion of burglary and assault, Sedalia Police Commander Matt Wirt said.

Perez was kept in jail for 24 hours but was let go when prosecutors declined to file charges against him. In Missouri, people cannot legally be held in jail for more than 24 hours without charges being filed against them, according to Attorney General Chris Koster's website. Pettis County Prosecutor Jeff Mittelhauser did not return requests for comment.

Bond said Perez, while in jail, assaulted an officer in a holding cell. The officer was not severely injured and declined to seek charges. When Bond learned of the assault Thursday, he assigned a detective to see if it warranted charges, he said.

On Thursday, the Pettis County Sheriff’s Dispatch received a 911 emergency call from Perez’s father, Bond said. The father was transporting Perez to a hospital in a private vehicle and requested to have an ambulance come take his son. Either during that phone call or soon after, Perez’s father reported that his son was attacking him, Bond said.

The sheriff’s department dispatched deputies and troopers from the Missouri State Highway Patrol where they subdued Perez and then brought him to Bothwell Regional Health Center by ambulance, Bond said.

Bond said one of his deputies petitioned a court to get Perez a 96-hour involuntary evaluation and treatment at Missouri Psychiatric Center, which was granted.

Police and hospital authorities would not comment on how Perez ended up as a patient at Truman Veterans Hospital.

Bond said he does not know any details about Perez's evaluation and treatment, and Missouri Psychiatric Center was unable to comment on Perez.

Supervising editor is Katherine Reed.

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