Former Marine pleads not guilty in death at Mo. VA
The Sedalia (Mo.) Democrat
Sedalia resident Rudy Perez Jr. has pleaded not guilty by reason of mental defect or disease to the killing of a Warsaw man at the Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans’ Hospital in Columbia.
Perez, 33, is charged with first-degree murder in Boone County Circuit Court after he assaulted Robert O. Hill, 78, while at the VA last week.
“We entered two pleas on Friday, not guilty and not guilty by reason of mental defect,” said David Tyson Smith, Perez’s lawyer. “The court allows us to do that because in a criminal case the plea comes first and the investigation comes later. We’re still investigating what occurred, but our position is that (Perez) has serious mental issues.”
Smith said Perez is a former Marine but declined to say how long he served or whether he was honorably discharged. He did say it appeared Perez was taking medication for a mental issue but he may not have been on his medication during the attack.
According to a probable cause statement, around 3:20 p.m. Feb. 1, Perez attacked Hill, hitting him in the face and the head. Hospital staff separated the two, sending Hill for medical treatment and attempting to calm Perez down. Around 6:30 p.m., Perez and Hill were both in a hospital common area when Perez began assaulting him again, this time knocking Hill to the ground and hitting him with a closed fist multiple times.
A uniformed VA Hospital officer was able to pull Perez away from Hill, who was taken to University Hospital and died of his injuries a few hours later. According to Columbia Police Department Sgt. Joe Bernherd, Perez was taken to Fulton State Hospital where he was charged in the death.
The incident came just three days after Perez attacked a Pettis County Sheriff’s deputy at the Pettis County Jail. According to a Pettis County probable cause statement, Perez was in jail on charges of assault and burglary stemming from a Sedalia Police Department arrest. On Jan. 29, while at the jail, Perez became agitated, punching the window and kicking the cell door.
“A deputy went into the cell to tell him to stop kicking the door and Perez attacked him,” said Pettis County Sheriff Kevin Bond. “Now, my deputy should not have gone into the cell alone.We always use backup when going into cells. But (the deputy) is retired military and since Perez is ex-military, maybe he thought he could talk to him, calm him down.”
The probable cause statement reports Perez attacked the deputy, hitting him several times in the face and was eventually Tasered.
“Immediately Perez apologized, saying ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to do that,’ and for whatever reason, my deputy decided not to pursue charges,” Bond said.
By afternoon on Jan. 30, Perez’s 24-hour hold from the SPD arrest was up because Pettis County Prosecutor Jeff Mittelhauser did not seek official charges relating to Perez’s original arrest.
“I initially didn’t file charges, not because the report was incomplete but because the victim’s statement wasn’t complete,” Mittelhauser told the Democrat on Friday. “It’s standard procedure to wait to file charges until all the necessary information is there. I had to make an immediate decision because the 24-hour hold was almost up.”
According to SPD Cmdr. Matt Wirt, Mittelhauser sent the paperwork stating he wanted an expanded victim’s statement on Jan. 30, but the arresting officer was off duty that day and didn’t return to work until Feb. 1.
“The officer came in on Friday, got the statement over the weekend and refiled the paperwork by Monday,” Wirt said. “Sometimes with assault victims it’s not always easy to get a statement, especially if they need extensive treatment. (The arresting officer) was going by Perez’s confession to assaulting (the victim).”
Because charges were not filed, Perez was released on the afternoon of Jan. 30. According to Bond, Pettis County Corrections Division Capt. Sam Hargrave had “some discussions with Perez’s parents about a need for psychiatric services” before he was released.
Bond said he didn’t know about the assault at the jail until Jan. 31 and when he found out, he immediately assigned a detective to look into the matter. That afternoon, a 911 call to the sheriff’s office was received from Perez’s father, who told dispatchers Perez was attacking him while driving on U.S. Highway 50 near state Route MM and he needed an ambulance.
According to a probable cause statement, Perez began punching his father in the face and upper torso. When he pulled the vehicle over, Perez got out and began undressing alongside the road. A Missouri State Highway Patrol trooper reported seeing a naked Perez attempt to push his mother into traffic multiple times. Perez was handcuffed and put into an ambulance.
“One of my detectives went with him in the ambulance to make sure he didn’t get violent again and Perez spat in his face,” Bond said. “Perez was then taken to University Hospital; when he got there, his parents did not want to pursue assault charges and the doctors (at the hospital) were being wishy-washy about committing him to a 96-hour involuntary stay. My detective said clearly there was some mental health issues going on and he was going to file for an involuntary commitment. That paperwork was filed sometime Thursday evening.”
After transporting Perez to the Mid-Missouri Mental Health Center that night, Pettis County deputies had no further contact with Perez.
“We delivered him to Mid-Mo, because we have a standing contract with them to take our (mental health) commitments there,” Bond said. “After that, I don’t know what happened. We did not transfer him to the VA, I don’t know how he got there.”
Charges against Perez for third-degree assault, two counts of third-degree domestic assault, two counts of assaulting a law enforcement officer and a count of resisting arrest were filed Tuesday in Pettis County Circuit Court.
Perez is currently being held on a $1 million cash-only bond at the Boone County Jail. A preliminary hearing on the murder charge has been set for March 4.