Murder Victim's Family Disappointed With Court Delays in Vermont

The relatives of Kathleen Smith said it feels like their loved one has been forgotten as the court focuses so much on her accused killer

A murder victim’s family is expressing frustration after a long-awaited hearing on the accused killer’s mental competency was delayed Monday.

“We were blindsided by this,” said Joanne Kortendick, the sister of Kathleen Smith. “It’s absurd this has gone on for so long, and my sister is the one who’s being forgotten in all this.”

Drifter Jose Pazos is accused of murdering Smith, a social worker, in Burlington, Vermont, in the fall of 2010.

However, Pazos has yet to stand trial because his mental competency has been debated for years and he has gone through a series of defense attorneys.

At his initial court appearances in 2010, Pazos pled not guilty to the charges against him. He remains in a psychiatric care facility.

Monday, before the latest competency hearing got underway, defense attorney Brian Marsicovetere told Judge Dennis Pearson he felt he was unable to represent Pazos well because of a potential conflict with an expert witness retained by the court.

“My hands are tied,” Marsicovetere warned the court, describing his concerns over a report written by forensic psychiatrist Dr. David Rosmarin.

The section of the report in question, read aloud by Judge Pearson in court, contained the doctor’s opinion that the suspect appears savvy enough to understand the legal process.

According to a portion of the report Judge Pearson read in open court, the psychiatrist wrote that Pazos might have taken a cue from his attorney to avoid cooperating with outside experts who were not hired by the defense.

The level of awareness required to infer something like that from an attorney demonstrated an understanding of the process, the psychiatrist indicated.

What the expert’s report described as a possible “preferred tactic” for the defense could put Marsicovetere in the position of being both an attorney and a witness, Judge Pearson observed, adding that is something court ethics aim to avoid.

Fearing a “cloud of suspicion” may hang over the hearing, Judge Pearson ruled that the competency question should be tabled for another day.

The move was a frustrating blow to family members of Kathleen Smith who had traveled to the courtroom for the hearing from the Montreal area, and from as far away as Colorado.

“It just feels like someone smacked me in the head and ripped out my heart,” Kortendick said in response to an necn question about the ongoing delays in the case. “I can’t say anything more than that about it. It’s just very horrible.”

Defense attorney Brian Marsicovetere declined comment after the hearing.

“We do work at a system that moves slowly at times,” observed Justin Jiron, a deputy state’s attorney for Chittenden County who is prosecuting the case. “We’re very sympathetic with the family. We want to support them as much as we can. I absolutely agree that they are justifiably frustrated with the process.”

However, Jiron noted that it is important for attorneys on both sides to follow rules of court procedures, and that sometimes is very time-consuming.

Next up in this process: the court needs to appoint a new defense attorney for the competency hearings. By the count of several people in attendance at the hearing Monday, the attorney to be appointed will be Jose Pazos’s fifth.

And for the family of Kathleen Smith, it means more waiting: something they’ve become all too good at.

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