Vt. man who murdered girlfriend and was found insane now faces assault charge

  • Charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter in the March 2017 killing of Betty Rodriguez in Springfield, Vt., Arnaldo Cruz steps up to the defense table to enter a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity through lawyer Dan Sedon in Windsor Superior Court in White River Junction, Vt., Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2018. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 10/16/2019 10:11:24 PM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — A 55-year-old Springfield, Vt., man who was found not guilty by reason of insanity last year in the fatal stabbing of his girlfriend appeared in Windsor Superior Court on Wednesday for an arraignment on a newly filed aggravated assault charge.

Judge Elizabeth Mann ordered Arnaldo Cruz held without bail, but his case could lead to policy discussions in Montpelier about how such defendants are held and treated.

Ten months ago, Judge Timothy Tomasi ruled that Cruz should remain in the custody of the Vermont Commissioner of Mental Health for up to 90 days for the purposes of treatment and supervision following his insanity plea, according to the order of hospitalization.

But prosecutors this week said they didn’t know Cruz was no longer being held until his recent arrest for allegedly threatening to kill a man with a knife in the weeks before he fatally stabbed Betty Rodriguez, 58, in the neck inside a Union Street apartment in Springfield in 2017.

The track Cruz’s case took after that 90-day period is not a matter of public record, officials said Wednesday. But Cruz left Vermont, and Massachusetts authorities arrested him recently on a Vermont warrant for the new assault charge, which prompted his court appearance on Wednesday.

Tomasi’s order from December stated that the court “shall” hold a hearing before discharging Cruz from the state Department of Mental Health and “shall” notify the Windsor County State’s Attorney of the discontinuation of treatment, but those two things aren’t required once the initial 90-day order runs out, Windsor County State’s Attorney David Cahill said.

“Our law does not permit the Department of Mental Health to share information with the public, police or prosecutors regarding insane murderers in their custody. This result is, well, insane,” Cahill said on Wednesday prior to the hearing. “I am beyond concerned. I have brought this to the attention of the Legislature’s Justice Oversight Committee.”

Cruz’s arraignment on Wednesday shed little light on where he has been living or held in recent months, but his attorney, Adam Hescock, said Cruz was “discharged” into a residential program in Massachusetts about a week ago.

Hescock argued that Cruz be released back to the Massachusetts program while his new case is pending. Cruz is alleged to have threatened to kill Justin Gomez, 22, with a knife inside a Springfield apartment a few weeks before he killed Rodriguez, according to a newly filed court affidavit. This past summer, Gomez’s mother went to police to report the alleged assault.

Because the alleged conduct happened two years ago, “there is no evidence of a present threat of physical violence to anyone,” Hescock told the judge.

Cahill saw it differently, citing Cruz’s history of violent behavior.

“It does not require any leap of faith or imagination to connect the dots and predict what Mr. Cruz will do in the future, notwithstanding having received 10 months of mental health treatment,” Cahill said.

Mann, the judge, said the court “cannot overlook or undervalue the history and the concern presented by that history” and ordered Cruz held. She noted that she didn’t have enough information about the Massachusetts program to consider releasing him there.

After Cruz killed Rodriguez, two psychiatrists — one for the state and one for the defense — evaluated Cruz and declared that he was insane at the time of the stabbing, according to prior court testimony.

The experts concluded in part that Cruz suffers from a history of mental disorders and suffered from psychotic delusions during the stabbing.

“In my opinion, Mr. Cruz is currently ‘a person in need of treatment’ in a secure psychiatric hospital environment because his capacity to exercise self-control is so lessened that he poses a danger of harm to himself and to others,” Dr. Albert Drukteinis, a prosecution witness, wrote in an October 2018 evaluation that is included in Cruz’s court file.

Hescock declined to comment after the hearing.

In a phone interview later in the afternoon, Vermont Department of Mental Health Commissioner Sarah Squirrell also declined to comment on Cruz’s case but spoke more broadly, saying now is the time to “reflect” and have a more “robust policy discussion” about the roles and connections among the criminal justice system, the mental health system and the corrections department.

Squirrell said the role of her department is to provide mental health care and treatment based on a person’s needs. The department is mandated to provide that care in the “least restrictive settings available,” she said, and is “not designed to ensure public safety.”

“Any expectation or assertion that anyone receiving care and treatment … can be housed indefinitely is false and misleading,” Squirrell said.

The date of Cruz’s next court hearing wasn’t immediately available.

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.




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