Stabbing Victim’s Family Fearful After Springfield, Vt., Man Found Not Guilty by Insanity

  • Windsor County Sheriff's Sgt. Philip Call, left, talks with Marcus Castro, of Jersey City, N.J., right, as he and his daughter Maryann Castro, second from left, try to console his sister Anna Castro, of Springfield, Vt., outside Windsor Superior Court in Whiter River Junction, Vt., Tuesday, Oct., 9, 2018. The Castros had just left a hearing during which Arnaldo Cruz plead not guilty by reason of insanity to charges that he murdered their sister Betty Rodriguez in Springfield, Vt., in March 2017. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • 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
Wednesday, October 10, 2018

White River Junction — Emotions ran high in Windsor Superior Court on Tuesday morning as a 54-year-old Springfield, Vt., man entered a plea of not guilty by virtue of insanity to charges that he stabbed and killed his 58-year-old girlfriend last year.

Arnaldo Cruz faced charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter in connection with the death of Betty Rodriguez, whom police say he stabbed in the neck on March 20, 2017, inside a Springfield apartment following an argument.

Two psychiatric doctors — one for the state and one for the defense — evaluated Cruz after the incident and declared that he was insane at the time of the stabbing, officials said in court on Tuesday.

Based on the contents of the experts’ reports, “the court will make a determination that the defendant was insane at the time of the events involving the stabbing of Ms. Rodriguez,” Judge Timothy Tomasi ruled in court on Tuesday.

Cruz’s criminal case now becomes a mental health case, and the charges effectively are disposed of, Windsor County State’s Attorney David Cahill said after the hearing.

Few details about the doctors’ evaluations were revealed during the brief court hearing on Tuesday, but Cahill said the two experts came to their conclusion after they agreed Cruz was unable to prevent himself from committing the stabbing.

“The experts agreed that the basis for that finding were long-term psychotic delusions that were present even on the day of the stabbing to include mistaken beliefs about reality, that he believed that certain circumstances were occurring that were not occurring,” Cahill said.

One of the conditions Cruz suffers from is schizophrenia, Cahill said.

About a dozen of Rodriguez’s family members attended the hearing and sobbed as the judge read the determination. Many of them wore shirts with Rodriguez’s photo screen-printed onto them; some of the shirts had a large purple ribbon on the back, a symbol for domestic violence awareness.

The court now will schedule a hearing to determine whether Cruz will be hospitalized as a result of the mental state that led to the incident, Tomasi said.

If a judge orders Cruz hospitalized, the order is good for 90 days and then would be renewed at an interval set by a judge.

After the hearing, Cruz’s attorney, Dan Sedon, said there is a likelihood Cruz will be confined to the state hospital and remain there “until further order of the court.”

The victim’s sister, Anna Castro, said she fears Cruz eventually will be released and may harm her or another member of her family.

“I feel like I have a death sentence on me,” said Castro, her voice trembling as her brother, Marcus Castro, tried to calm her outside the courthouse.

Cahill, the prosecutor, said he thinks the mental health system is “not equipped” to deal with people like Cruz, who may require long-term supervision.

“It is not really designed for people who pose such a great danger to public safety as Mr. Cruz or any other murderer who is insane,” Cahill said. “The law really does not provide for long-term commitment. The presumption is always that we are always considering release.

“My worry as well as the family’s worry is that some day — two years, five years, seven years — from now when this case is long out of the headlines, a doctor with a God complex will deem him cured when he is not,” Cahill continued.

Bed capacity is an issue, Cahill said, so there often is a push to free up the spot for the next person.

Sedon acknowledged there aren’t a lot of beds in Vermont, but said the people who occupy beds in the state “pretty much fall into (this) category.”

“Decisions about his treatment and his release will be taken very seriously and will be reviewed by medical and legal professionals,” said Sedon, adding that a hospital, not prison, is an appropriate setting for someone with “profound mental illness.”

“It is not taken lightly when someone is found not guilty of murder by reason of insanity,” he said.

Cruz returned to Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield after Tuesday’s hearing. He has a status conference scheduled for Oct. 24.

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