Burlington Police arrested 45-year-old Jose Pazos, a homeless man living in Burlington, over the weekend. Monday, he was charged with breaking into a storage shed at the Middlebury College Snow Bowl. But investigators predict the charges against Pazos will be upgraded to murder, for the death of 50-year-old Kathleen Smith of Burlington.
When they found him hiding, detectives say Pazos had a hatchet, two knives, and a replica handgun. According to court records, Pazos told officers he broke in to the shed to take shelter from a bad rain storm. That's all police are revealing from their interview with Pazos for now, while they continue investigating the killing of Smith. Police say the avid gardener, artist, and community volunteer was killed more than a week ago by trauma to her neck.
Jose Pazos is a native of Uruguay, but investigators say the homeless man is a legal resident of the United States, moving here from South America with his family 30 years ago. He has a Maryland ID, and a criminal record in New York State and Florida for forgery and possession of an illegal gun.
Prosecutors say Pazos never showed up to court in Vermont on other forgery charges from 2006, so they worried he might skip town unless he was locked up on $1-million bail. So far, he's only been charged with four misdemeanors for breaking into the storage shed and stealing coffee.
"Given the fact this is an individual who's a transient who has criminal records in at least two other states, I think it's an appropriate amount [of bail]," said T.J. Donovan, Chittenden County's head prosecutor.
Police say Pazos dated Kathleen Smith's friend at least a decade ago, so that's how the two first met. But detectives would not say more about the relationship between their suspect and the victim. It's unclear why Pazos picked Burlington, but he's well-known to social service providers working with the homeless community. Pazos has been camping in the woods behind several businesses on Riverside Avenue.
WCAX News talked to several homeless people in downtown Burlington. None of them knew Pazos well, but say they've met him around town because he's lived here for more than ten years. They said he's something of a loner, who never raised any obvious red flags.
The public defender representing Pazos would not say if he discussed Smith with his client, and said it's hard to tell how good Pazos's English is based on their brief interaction.
The attorney argued against the high bail amount: "I think a million dollars is pretty excessive," said Lucas Collins. "They haven't proven that he did anything yet, much less murder. So at this point, what we have is a person who was in a shed camping out in the storm."
Police say it's just a matter of time before Pazos faces more serious charges. They're waiting on the results of forensic testing, and believe the tests will be what they need to charge Pazos with murder. They hope that will come by the end of the week.
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