Mental Competency of Accused Murderer Called into Question

A Vermont judge must decide whether a murder suspect is mentally competent to have a jury hear the case against him.

A Vermont judge must decide whether a murder suspect is mentally competent to have a jury hear the case against him.

The family of Kathleen Smith of Burlington has waited nearly seven years for some semblance of justice following Smith’s brutal killing in 2010.

“She had a huge impact on her community as well as our family,” said Smith’s brother, Philip, holding back tears.

Kathleen Smith was found dead in her home in the city’s old north end neighborhood in October of 2010. Detectives said her hands and feet were tied and her throat was slashed.

The lone suspect in the case is drifter Jose Pazos, who police said harbored a grudge against Smith for siding against him in a child custody dispute.

But nearly seven years after pleading not guilty, Pazos has yet to face trial. He has fired several defense attorneys, forcing legal restarts.

“We tend to focus so much on the murderer and the legal process, and never the victim,” observed Jake Smith, Kathleen Smith’s son. “And I guess it’s important for me and probably our whole family for people to remember her as more than just a statistic in a news story, and as a real person who existed and touched a lot of people’s lives.”

At a hearing Tuesday, there were sharp divisions between attorneys as to whether Pazos is mentally fit for trial.

“There is a conflict in the opinion of two experts,” defense attorney Daniel Sedon told Judge Jim Crucitti. “Which is the presence of active and profound delusional disorder still present in Mr. Pazos.”

“My opinion is that he demonstrates the capacities usually associated with judicial findings of competency to stand trial,” countered Dr. David Rosmarin, a forensic psychiatrist who was introduced to the court by Justin Jiron, Chittenden County’s chief deputy state’s attorney.

Prosecutors played a recording of Pazos talking with Rosmarin in June of 2016, inside the psychiatric care facility where he’s housed. The video, the state suggested, demonstrates the accused killer’s savvy, because he is able to understand and process questions, and appears to anticipate legal issues that may arise from the evaluation.

“You’re trying to draw me into a discussion I don’t want to get drawn into with you,” Pazos told Rosmarin in the recording of their session from last year.

The defense insists the tape shown in court doesn’t tell the whole story.

As the attorneys aired their differences, the family of Kathleen Smith urged the court and community to maintain a focus on their loved one, who they said missed major family milestones such as her own son’s marriage.

After hearing testimony and reviewing evidence of Pazos’s competence, Judge Crucitti will decide whether the suspect is able to stand trial.

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