Court accepts insanity plea for VA homicide defendant Rudy Perez

Monday, September 23, 2013 | 7:40 p.m. CDT; updated 10:14 p.m. CDT, Monday, September 23, 2013

COLUMBIA — Rudy Perez Jr., who was charged with beating a fellow patient to death at Truman Veterans Hospital, was found not guilty by reason of insanity after two psychological evaluations found him incompetent at the time of attacks.

The voices Perez was hearing made him attack 78-year-old Robert O. Hillin Ward 2B — a locked, in-patient psychiatric unit in the hospital, Chief Prosecutor Dan Knight said at a hearing Monday in Boone County Circuit Court. Those voices said Hill was the enemy, a demon, a devil and was mocking God, when Perez attacked him, Knight said.

Perez was off his medication at the time of the attacks but is now back on it and stable, his attorney David Tyson Smith said. He added that his client has a hazy recollection of the Feb. 1 incident and is remorseful. On that day, Perez, now 34, assaulted Hill in a common room in the ward. The two were separated, and Perez told workers about the voices causing him to attack Hill, Knight said.

Three hours later, after Perez had calmed down, the two were allowed back in the same room. He assaulted Hill again, pushing him onto his back on the hallway floor, kneeling over him and striking him repeatedly in the face and head. An officer restrained Perez, and Hill was taken to University Hospital, where he died at about 10:30 p.m.

While in the hospital, Perez told workers that he heard voices telling him that other people were impostors and made him doubt if his dad was his dad, Knight said. He was also seen alone in his hospital room, saluting, turning and saluting again, several times.

Knight recounted the facts of the investigation to Circuit Judge Gary Oxenhandler, while Perez watched expressionlessly. His mother, in the front row of the courtroom, choked back tears with her husband’s arm around her.

Hill's two sons from Iowa were also in court. Knight said he'd been in frequent contact with them and that they understood that the state had no option but to accept Perez’s plea of not guilty by means of mental disease or disorder.

Knight read aloud during Monday's hearing a summary of the two evaluations of Perez — one ordered by the defense and another by the prosecution.

The defense’s evaluation, conducted by Randy Telander at Fulton State Hospital, found that Perez had a distorted perception of reality the week of the attack and was in a psychotic state.

The prosecution’s evalution, conducted by John Rabun, a St. Louis-based forensic psychologist, said Perez was driven by psychosis and he had no rational motive to attack a man he never met in a room full of witnesses.

Both found that he was schizophrenic and not able to understand the consequences of his actions at the time. 

Perez has a history of schizophrenia dating back to 1999 and had experienced auditory and visual hallucinations and paranoid delusions before, Knight said in court.

Smith said Perez is ready to start a new chapter in his life, after living in near-solitary confinement in the Boone County Jail for the past seven months. He said Perez is alone for 22-hours-a-day because of his mental illness and could only go outside when he went to court. 

Smith said Perez’s parents, who have been at every hearing, still love their son and have “glowing” things to say about him. Smith said his client was involved in church groups, the Royal Rangers youth group and helped mow his neighbor’s lawns. He said Perez was unemployed at the time of the attacks.

Perez will be placed in the custody of the Missouri Department of Mental Health, Knight said He will most likely be put in the Biggs Unit at Fulton State Hospital, a maximum-security facility.

He still faces six charges in Pettis County for a string of assaults in the week leading up to the homicide.

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