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Conn. court rejects appeal of mentally ill suspect

Associated Press Modified: November 19, 2012 at 1:46 pm •  Published: November 19, 2012
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HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — The state Supreme Court on Monday rejected the appeal of a mentally ill murder defendant who was ordered into state custody in 2010 after officials discovered that he had been released from a state mental hospital 18 years earlier without their knowledge.

Justices upheld lower court rulings in the case of 79-year-old Pedro Custodio, who was found incompetent to stand trial in the 1991 shooting death of his Waterbury neighbor Amerigo Pagan Cruz. Custodio was sent to a state mental hospital in 1992 but released only a few months later after hospital officials concluded he was no longer a danger to himself or others.

Custodio lived in Waterbury without any further criminal trouble for nearly two decades. In 2010, he was rearrested after officials at Waterbury Superior Court discovered that his murder case was still open and he had been released from the mental hospital with no notification to prosecutors or the court.

Later in 2010, a state judge in Waterbury ruled that Custodio was still incompetent to stand trial, placed him in the custody of the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services and ordered him to undergo periodic competency exams, with the expectation that he would be released back into the community with supervision.

Custodio's public defender, Temmy Ann Pieszak, didn't immediately return messages seeking comment Monday.

Pieszak had argued that Custodio's arrest on a failure-to-appear charge was improper, because Custodio was never notified of the court hearing that he was accused of willfully missing. The failure-to-appear charge was dismissed shortly after his arrest, with officials calling it a mechanism for getting Custodio back in court.

Pieszak also claimed that Waterbury Superior Court Judge Richard Damiani wrongly applied a 1998 law retroactively when deciding he had the authority to order periodic competency exams for Custodio. State law didn't allow judges to order periodic exams in cases before 1998.

The Supreme Court rejected those arguments and upheld an Appellate Court ruling.

Senior Assistant State's Attorney Robert Scheinblum said Monday's decision was important for public safety.

"The Supreme Court's decision ... recognizes the Superior Court's ability to protect public safety by conditioning an incompetent murder defendant's release on the requirement that he submit to periodic competency exams while he remains at liberty," Scheinblum said.

It wasn't clear Monday where Custodio is living now.

In court documents, Pieszak said Custodio suffers from a brain disorder and has received Social Security disability benefits for the past four decades. Pieszak said Custodio believes John F. Kennedy is still the president and thinks he is 54 years old.

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