Freed patient catches family by surprise
In setting free a man who stabbed his mother, the judge offers his sympathy
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In 2005, Minnie Torres was stabbed three times in the chest by her son, but he was acquitted later by reason of insanity of attempted murder and committed to the Hawaii State Hospital.
Earlier this year, the son, Rueben Ortiz, was placed on temporary conditional release from the hospital. But Torres and her family did not know about the release until a family friend spotted Ortiz on a bus in Kaneohe last month.
The family members showed up in court yesterday to protest that they and the mother, still fearful of Ortiz, were never notified about the release.
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CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Rueben Ortiz, left, listened to proceedings yesterday in Circuit Judge Michael Town's courtroom.
Relatives of a mother who survived three stab wounds to her chest by her son in 2005 protested yesterday that they were never notified that the man was released from the Hawaii State Hospital earlier this year.
Rueben Ortiz was under mental health supervision when, unprovoked, he stabbed Minnie Torres at her Kalihi apartment in April 2005, but was acquitted by reason of insanity two years ago of an attempted murder charge and committed to the hospital.
In January, Circuit Judge Michael Town approved Ortiz's temporary conditional release from the Kaneohe institution pending a hearing yesterday, but the mother's relatives showed up to tell the judge they did not know about the release until Ortiz was spotted by a family friend on a bus in Kaneohe on March 31.
"What a shock for all of us that, once again, the state failed to protect our mother," Harry Ortiz, Torres' son and Rueben's half brother, wrote in a letter submitted to the court yesterday.
The stabbing was cited by U.S. Magistrate Judge Kevin Chang in July 2005 in a scathing report that faulted the state and the Department of Health for falling behind in providing adequate services and supervision under a community plan for thousands of seriously mentally ill residents.
At the time of the stabbing, Ortiz had a previous insanity acquittal in a terroristic threatening case and was a former state hospital patient on temporary release under various conditions, including a prohibition from contacting family members.
The mother, now 79, filed a Circuit Court lawsuit last year against the state regarding the stabbing, saying she was hospitalized in critical condition and had an artery replaced. The state denies any liability.
But family members contend that the temporary conditional release and the lack of notification once again show how they and their mother have been let down by the criminal justice and mental health systems.
Town explained yesterday to Harry Ortiz and other relatives in the gallery that Rueben Ortiz cannot be held in prison because the judge acquitted him by reason of insanity, but Town expressed sympathy with the family's concerns.
"It was awful," he said about the stabbing.
When the judge asked why the family was not told about the release, city Deputy Prosecutor Darrell Wong said he does not know whether anyone is responsible, but acknowledged that the family was not notified.
The judge suggested to the mental health team members supervising Rueben Ortiz that they talk to the family, and rescheduled for July 24 the hearing on whether the conditional release should be made permanent.
The judge noted that under the terms of his temporary release, Ortiz must remain under 24-hour supervision and abide by other conditions including staying away from his mother and family members.
Deputy Public Defender Ed Harada said he is confident that the conditions imposed by the judge will ensure the safety of the mother and others. Ortiz, who has been diagnosed with various mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, must also live at a transitional home in Kaneohe and must take his medication, Harada said.
He also said his client has been successfully complying with the conditions since his release.
Harry Ortiz said his mother, 79, was too afraid and too nervous to attend yesterday's hearing. The last time she saw Rueben Ortiz was when he stabbed her as she sat on her sofa, and seeing him might be too traumatic, Harry Ortiz said.
He said his half brother should be locked up or at least, returned to the state hospital.
Even with the conditions imposed by the judge, the family members are not comfortable, Ortiz said.
"We're terrified," he said. "It's wrong."
He said he notified his mother about the results of the hearing.
"She's still afraid," he said.