The man who killed a fellow patient at Columbia’s Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans' Hospital in February has been found not guilty of murder.
Boone County prosecutors accepted Monday Rudy Perez Jr.’s plea of not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect. Perez, who has a history of mental disease, beat 78-year-old Robert Hill to death in February because he thought Hill was a demon who was "mocking God."
Prosecuting Attorney Dan Knight said he accepted a not guilty plea because Perez could not understand his own actions due to symptoms of schizophrenia.
“As a result of this mental disease, he was incapable of knowing and appreciating the nature, quality, and wrongfulness of his conduct,” Knight said.
Perez will be sent to Fulton State Hospital, where he will receive care and supervision from the Missouri Department of Mental Health. He will be sent first to a maximum-security unit at the hospital. Depending on his behavior, he could be released to a part of the hospital with less security in the future.
Perez's defense team previously asked Knight to drop murder charges against Perez and instead charge him with a lesser crime of manslaughter. Knight said he refused to do so because Perez is dangerous to society, and a murder charge would make it more difficult for Perez to be released from the state's care if he ever petitioned.
"If someone is committed [to the department of mental health] and the charges were for murder in the first degree, there are going to be additional hurdles that they are going to have to clear before they can be released," Knight said. "We're talking about an extremely brutal attack here. Mr. Perez is clearly a dangerous person. But the fact of the matter is, under Missouri law, this is the only option available. I could not in good faith go forward with criminal charges when all the evidence in this case clearly shows that the defendant suffered from a severe mental disease or defect—schizophrenia."
David Tyson Smith, Perez's attorney, said he is pleased with the trial's outcome despite not getting the charge against Perez changed to manslaughter.
"Part of my job is to ask for lesser charges," Smith said. "That's just something I do in every case. Realistically, I didn't expect that. We had talked about that before with [Knight]. But here's the deal with that: Rudy could have gone forward with this and had a trial and tried to get a lesser offense. He chose not to do that. So, all those options are still on the table for us."
Perez's murder trial was slated to begin October 1.