Family of homicide victim frustrated by limited voice in Pazos case

Published: 6/24/2019 10:10:46 PM
Modified: 6/24/2019 10:10:42 PM

BURLINGTON — Family members of Kathleen Smith, the Burlington woman who was brutally killed in 2010, say they do not believe justice will ever be served following the death of Jose Pazos, the man charged in the homicide.

Pazos died last week at the University of Vermont Medical Center from complications arising from a heart attack. He had been awaiting trial at the Vermont Psychiatric Care Center in Berlin, Vt., in the custody of the state Department of Mental Health, as he has not been ruled competent to stand trial.

Joanne Kortendick, Smith’s sister, sent a statement to media outlets Sunday that said news of Pazos’ death had extinguished the chance of “some semblance of justice” in Smith’s death.

“We are experiencing a sense of relief now that Pazos is no longer a danger but we will never have justice for Kathleen — our sister, our mother, our cousin, our aunt, our friend — who is greatly loved and greatly missed,” the statement said.

In the statement, family members said they wished they had been provided more of an opportunity for input in Pazos’ judicial process.

“We were very proactive in our communications with both the prosecutor’s office and to the extent permitted the attorney general’s office who represented the mental health system,” the family said. “Notwithstanding we were often overlooked with respect to the ongoing proceedings and essentially given no voice.”

The family believed that Pazos should have been ruled competent to stand trial and that he manipulated the system to remain in the hospital instead of being sent to prison.

“Sadly, Pazos’ case illustrates the difficulty in the state of Vermont when there are psychiatric issues on the part of the defendant that must be dealt with by the criminal justice system,” the family’s statement said. “The lack of coordination between the systems combined with a suspect who as many of the evaluating psychiatrists described as having few negative symptoms allowed him to take advantage of weaknesses and manipulate both systems.”

Pazos was admitted to UVMMC early Tuesday morning without law enforcement supervision, which startled the Burlington Police Department.

Mourning Fox, the deputy commissioner of the Department of Mental Health, said there can be gaps in law enforcement supervision when individuals in DMH custody are admitted to the hospital after suffering from a health emergency.

But he said these gaps, which occur when sheriff’s offices do not have staff immediately available, do not put the public in danger.

A hearing in the case had been scheduled for July 9.

Pazos’ death comes amid a wider discussion about mental health and criminal justice in Vermont after Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah George dismissed two murder cases and an attempted murder case after determining the state would not be able to rebut the defendants’ insanity defenses.

George said in a statement Friday that her office had been alerted to the word of Pazos’ death that morning.

“Although disappointed that we are precluded from the opportunity to seek his conviction and hold him accountable for the murder of Kathleen Smith, we hope that her family may achieve some measure of closure with the knowledge that he has remained in custody since his arrest and no longer poses a threat to public safety,” George said.




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