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Judge asked to move insane killer from private hospital
January 25, 2013, 05:00 AM By Michelle Durand Daily Journal Staff

The state Attorney General's Office is asking a local judge to rethink housing an insane murderer in a private psychiatric facility funded by taxpayers and recommit him to a state hospital but the man's defense attorney says doing so would actually be more expensive.

"The state and prosecutors have an established policy in place that those who are not guilty by reason of insanity or incompetent be housed at state hospitals but they have the power to place them in private facilities,” said Vince O'Malley, attorney for Vitin Ajani Cruz, who is accused of a 2004 stabbing death of a fellow vocational center client in San Carlos.

"They are just unwilling to break their prior habits and customs,” he said.

At O'Malley's urging in December, Judge Mark Forcum ordered Cruz, 38, treated at Crestwood Behavioral Health Center near Calistoga rather than Napa State Hospital as preferred by prosecutors. Cruz had been staying at Crestwood the previous 14 months while deemed incompetent for trial on murder charges and later while prosecuted for the stabbing death.

O'Malley calls the option a win-win situation because his client is back in a familiar treatment environment and the private facility's day rate is nearly $400 less than Napa State Hospital. O'Malley also claims Crestwood was able to ready Cruz for prosecution when Napa could not. However, prosecutors counter that the private facility is not meant as a permanent placement for incompetent or insane patients from the criminal system.

In his initial ruling, Forcum said Crestwood officials can transfer Cruz to Napa if there are any issues with medication or bed availability but otherwise the state of California will fund his stay at the private facility.

The state Attorney General's Office disagrees with the decision and has filed a motion asking Forcum to set aside his original order. A hearing is set for Feb. 22.

Although the Attorney General's Office is the entity pursuing the reversal, District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said the request is in line with his office's original argument — that defendants should not be housed in private facilities at the state's expense.

In October, Cruz pleaded no contest to second-degree murder and the use of a knife in the Oct. 27, 2004 stabbing of Alfonso Ruiz at Vocational Rehabilitation Services on Quarry Road in San Carlos. According to prosecutors, Cruz mistook Ruiz for another man as they sat next to each other at the center and suddenly lunged at him with a knife. Ruiz was stabbed several times in the upper torso and arm. Cruz fled but was arrested a few blocks away from the site. Ruiz died the following afternoon.

Cruz accepted the negotiated plea after prosecutors agreed he was not guilty by reason of insanity based on doctors' conclusions.

Cruz's hospitalization was just the latest in a long string since his arrest in Ruiz's death. In 2005, court-appointed doctors found him unable to aid in his own defense and he went back and forth between the mental facilities and county care until he was found competent in 2012.

Competency is a person's ability to aid in his or her own defense while sanity is a person's mental state at the time of an alleged act.

Schizophrenia medication and other signs of psychiatric problems were found at Cruz's home during a police search after the stabbing. O'Malley has said Cruz has a deep fear of being stabbed because he was left with severe stomach wounds several years before the murder during a bus attack in San Francisco. Cruz thought Ruiz was somehow associated with his previous attackers and possibly armed with a box cutter, according to O'Malley.

If Cruz had been convicted of murder and found sane, he faced up to 26 years in prison.

(650) 344-5200 ext. 102.

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