Chattanooga prosecutors finish presenting their proof; defenders say medical delirium may have been involved in 2016 fatal stabbing

Chattanooga prosecutors finish presenting their proof; defenders say medical delirium may have been involved in 2016 fatal stabbing

May 23rd, 2019 by Zack Peterson in Local Regional News

Zacarias Salas-Rufino

Zacarias Salas-Rufino

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Chattanooga prosecutors finished presenting their proof Thursday in the trial of a 32-year-old man accused of fatally stabbing his wife in 2016, while public defenders countered that medical delirium may been involved.

Zacarias Salas-Rufino, also known as Carlos Delposo, has stood trial for two days now in Hamilton County Criminal Court on a second-degree murder charge.

Jurors are expected to hear closing arguments Friday at 8:30 a.m. and then begin deliberating his guilt or innocence on the Class A felony, which carries a sentence range of 15 to 60 years in prison.

Prosecutors say Salas-Rufino stabbed his ex-wife, Yessica Ruiz, 29, about 25 times in the early morning hours of Sept. 26, 2016, at their home on Navajo Drive with their children present. Using eyewitnesses, 911 calls and other forensic evidence, prosecutors Cameron Williams and Brian Bush drew a picture of a couple beset by allegations of domestic violence and concerns about cheating in the months leading up to the violent incident.

They closed their proof Thursday afternoon after presenting the full extent of the medical injuries Ruiz suffered to jurors. Ruiz died a few days after the stabbing, and the couple's children are now living with family elsewhere.

Salas-Rufino, meanwhile, was taken into custody around 7 a.m. that day in 2016 after a Chattanooga officer who arrived at the home saw him running down the street screaming for help. According to trial testimony from officers, first responders and neighbors, Salas-Rufino was delirious, his pupils were sluggish and he was yelling, "they're trying to kill me with light."

After the state closed its proof, Salas-Rufino's defense honed in on thiat moment by calling witnesses who described the 32-year-old's state of mind at the time of the incident.

Paul Bing, a doctor in the emergency room at Parkridge Medical Center, described Salas-Rufino as confused, agitated and delirious and said he needed to sedate him. Bing said he diagnosed Salas-Rufino with cocaine and methamphetamine delirium and that symptoms included not being in touch with reality and physical restlessness. Salas-Rufino's attorney, Assistant Public Defender Erinn O'Leary, also showed jurors medical documents that said Salas-Rufino pleaded for help because he thought medical staff wanted to hurt him.

Prosecutors countered that delirium doesn't excuse violence.

"Would you agree with me you can be in a state of delirium and still understand the consequence of your actions?" Executive Assistant District Attorney Williams asked Bing.

"Hmm," Bing said. "It's possible."

Salas-Rufino announced late Thursday he will not be taking the stand in his defense, as is his constitutional right. Before trial, defenders worked to secure translators and to suppress Salas-Rufino's statement to police in which he said he overheard Ruiz on the phone with another man and went to scare her with a knife. According to court documents, that lead to a struggle, and Salas-Rufino said Ruiz was stabbed four times. If he were to contradict his prior statements, which have been suppressed, prosecutors could then bring them into evidence and play police body-camera footage of the night he was arrested for jurors.

The trial continues Friday in Hamilton County Criminal Court before Judge Barry Steelman.

Contact Zack Peterson at zpeterson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @zackpeterson918.


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