Jose Pazos, 45, thanked his defense attorneys as he was brought into court to face four charges including first-degree murder for the killing of 50-year-old Kathleen Smith. Investigators found the social worker dead in her Burlington home in mid-October. Tuesday, prosecutors told a judge the homeless man planned the killing.
"Mr. Pazos did in fact hold a grudge against Ms. Smith," Chittenden County Prosecutor T.J. Donovan said.
Donovan said that grudge is at least 3 years old, explaining Pazos felt Smith was trying to keep him away from her friend and a child he fathered with that woman.
"We believe evidence of guilt is great," Donovan told Judge Linda Levitt.
Police say they found a hunting knife on Pazos that had Smith's blood on it. Her throat was slashed. Her hands were tied and police found identical rope in Pazos' campsite. They also say his shoes matched bloody footprints in Smith's home.
Reporter Jack Thurston: Do you think this case is a slam dunk?
T.J. Donovan: I'm not going to characterize it. I think that Jack, our burden today in order to get Mr. Pazos held without bail is whether or not the court found the evidence of guilt is great. The court answered in the affirmative to our motion: Mr. Pazos was held without bail so we think the evidence speaks for itself.
"One of the primary focuses of our investigation since his arrest has been the analysis of physical evidence," Burlington Police Chief Mike Schirling said. "But identifying peripheral witnesses and tracking down any other leads, that relate to Mr. Pazos or other leads that came in and making sure they ran their course so that we're confident we haven't missed something."
Detectives say Pazos searched the internet for how to tie hand restraints, using a distinctive knot style to bind Kathleen Smith. Investigators found her fingers were wrapped in duct tape. They discovered wooden handles connected by wire that was touching her body, but they would not speculate if the wire was a torture device.
When police told Pazos something bad happened to his longtime acquaintance, court records show he responded, "I haven't done anything. No, I have no reason-- no motive."
"From what I've seen so far of him personally, he doesn't seem to be a violent person," defense attorney Peggy Jansch said.
Jansch hopes the public will not rush to judgment. She says the child custody grudge is a flimsy motive. She has not yet looked closely at the state's evidence, including the DNA tests that put Kathleen Smith's blood on the knife with a 1 in 5-quadrillion certainty.
"This is going to come down to a battle of experts, I think, concerning physical evidence of that nature," Jansch said.
Pazos denied charges of first-degree murder, kidnapping, burglary, and stealing Smith's car. He's being held without bail.
Pazos was charged more than two weeks ago with other charges. But the evidence is very complex and required a lot of testing before police upgraded the charges. Twelve police agencies worked together on the case and in fact, it's still developing. Police are gathering even more evidence and still want to know more about their suspect's travels before and after October 15, when they believe he killed Kathleen Smith. Anyone with information is asked to call 802-540-2222.