Crime

‘All I could see was red,’ recounts 76-year-old victim in Boise stabbing case

In a deadpan voice, Ruben Diaz said, “I’m going to kill you, I’m going to kill you, I’m going to kill you,” while repeatedly stabbing a Boise stranger, the man testified in court Thursday.

Diaz appeared in Ada County court for a preliminary hearing after being stabilized at a state hospital until he was determined to be mentally competent for trial.

Gary Vinsonhaler, 76, of Boise, who was attacked in his front yard last November, testified Thursday. Diaz made almost no eye contact with the man, instead staring down at the table in front of him.

Diaz, 36, is charged with aggravated battery and misdemeanor resisting or obstructing police for allegedly stabbing the man multiple times after approaching Vinsonhaler while he was doing yardwork at his home in Southeast Boise.

Vinsonhaler suffered multiple slashes to his his face and neck, including cuts across his mouth that chipped his teeth, severe damage to a facial nerve and cuts near his eyelids.

“I looked up once and all I could see was red because my eyes had filled with blood,” he testified. At that point, Vinsonhaler said he feared the attack had blinded him, but ultimately his vision wasn’t impaired.

Diaz was hospitalized in December after mental health experts deemed him unfit for trial. His competency has since been restored and he was returned to Ada County to prepare for trial.

Magistrate Judge James Cawthon presided over Diaz’s preliminary hearing Thursday.

Vinsonhaler testified that on the day he was attacked in his cul-de-sac on Preamble Place, he had gone outside to rake leaves when he saw a man, later identified as Diaz, walking down the street. Vinsonhaler said the man seemed “disoriented and confused,” and he initially wondered whether the man had wandered away from some kind of “convalescent” home. Vinsonhaler asked the man where he was going.

“I was trying to help him and I knew he was disoriented, but as he came closer, I backed up,” Vinsonhaler testified. He said he wanted to keep about a 15-foot space between himself and Diaz, just to be safe. Because he wanted to remove himself from the situation, Vinsonhaler said he told the man that the garbage men would be along soon and they knew the neighborhood well, so they could help him.

Vinsonhaler said he walked into his backyard, through his patio door and into the house. He went into a bedroom and got on the computer to find the police department’s nonemergency phone number to report Diaz wandering, he said. Then he heard a noise.

I looked out and I saw Ruben in the hallway,” he testified. “He just stood there.”

Vinsonhaler said he couldn’t remember whether he left the patio door open or not. He said his first thought was, “I’ve gotta get out of the house.”

“I said, ‘You don’t belong here, you need to leave,’” Vinsonhaler testified about confronting Diaz in the hall. “His response was, ‘No.’”

When Diaz didn’t move, Vinsonhaler brushed past him in the hall and walked out the front door. He said that within 10 feet of his front door, the attack began.

In addition to the facial injuries, Vinsonhaler suffered severe injuries to his hands from trying to fight off the blade. Those injuries resulted in surgeries to his hands and the joints in his fingers, leaving him with some permanent mobility damage.

Boise Police Department’s Brek Orton also testified Thursday; he was the first officer to arrive at the scene of the attack. Orton said the suspect was holding an 8- to 10-inch serrated knife.

Orton said Diaz immediately turned his attention to him and away from the victim when he arrived on scene. He testified that he ordered Diaz to drop his weapon and then drew his firearm.

“He was telling me to kill him or to shoot him, and at one point he licked the bloody knife,” Orton said.

Orton said both Diaz and the victim were “covered in blood.”

Ultimately, Orton used his left hand to deploy his Taser stun gun in an effort to get Diaz to drop his weapon. A second police officer arrived and also shocked Diaz with a stun gun. Orton said he then used a baton to strike Diaz in the forearm and to break the blade of the knife.

Prosecutors also brought forward a witness, Hailey Chavez, who works across the street from the victim’s home on Preamble Place. Chavez called 911 and told dispatchers that an older man was screaming for help and was covered in blood.

Chavez also recorded a video on her cellphone. The state submitted the video as evidence on Thursday.

After about three hours of testimony, Cawthon found probable cause to send Diaz’s case to District Court, where he will be arraigned at 9 a.m. June 25.

Diaz was initially charged with attempted murder, but on Thursday the prosecution amended the charges to felony aggravated battery with an enhancement for the use of a deadly weapon and misdemeanor obstructing police.

A history of mental illness and violence

Diaz had been released from prison just four months before the alleged attack and was on parole.

An Idaho Statesman investigation in December found that the parole commission knew that Diaz had a history of violence as a result of mental illness. He told a state parole commission that, when not medicated, he could lapse into delusions that other people were aliens.

Doctors diagnosed schizophrenia and autism in Diaz sometime before 2008, and he would stop taking his medication and threaten people with violence or attack them, according to court records. The parole commission agreed to release Diaz only into the custody of a facility that could monitor his medication.

Diaz was living in an assisted living facility, known as the Hancock House, only a few blocks from Vinsonhaler’s house.

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Reporter Ruth Brown covers the criminal justice and correctional systems in Idaho. She focuses on breaking news, public safety and social justice. Prior to coming to the Idaho Statesman, she was a reporter at the Idaho Press-Tribune, the Bakersfield Californian and the Idaho Falls Post Register.
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