COLUMBIA (AP) -
A 33-year-old Sedalia man suspected of killing a veterans' hospital patient in Columbia was released from jail two days earlier after Pettis County prosecutors declined to charge him with assaulting a neighbor who had been punched in the face.
Columbia police issued a first-degree murder warrant Monday for Rudy Perez Jr. with a $1 million, cash-only bond. He's accused of killing 78-year-old Robert O. Hill of Warsaw.
Officials at Truman Memorial Veterans Hospital said Hill was attacked by another patient Friday night and died four hours later. By late Monday afternoon, Perez was not in police custody but under evaluation at an unidentified "local secure facility," said Columbia police Sgt. Joseph Bernhard.
The warrant said Perez attacked Hill on the hospital's second floor "by striking (him) on the head and face." After hospital workers separated the two men, Perez was allowed to return to a common area "after he had calmed down."
Hill was sent to the same common area after he was
treated for those injuries. About three hours later, Perez again attacked Hill "for reasons that have not yet been determined," according to the warrant. Hill was punched "multiple times in the face and head" while lying on his back with Perez atop him, the warrant says. A hospital police officer broke up the disturbance.
A Sedalia police report reviewed by The Associated Press shows that three days prior, on Jan. 29, Perez was arrested on suspicion of first-degree burglary and second-degree assault but released 24 hours later when no charges were filed.
The neighbor told Sedalia police that Perez knocked on his front door before punching him in the face without explanation. Perez allegedly followed the neighbor inside and continued to attack.
"I don't even know the guy that well," William R. Rickey, 25, said in a telephone interview. "When I opened my screen door, he started punching me."
Rickey said he had met Perez briefly while previously working at Walmart and last saw his neighbor several weeks ago when he offered to help trim some overgrown tree limbs. Perez said he didn't have enough money and declined the offer, said Rickey, who suffered a broken nose in the recent altercation.
The arresting police officer asked that burglary and assault charges be filed against Perez, but it's not clear why that didn't happen. Pettis County Prosecutor Jeff Mittelhauser did not immediately respond to an interview request Monday.
VA officials declined to disclose additional details about the two men, including information about their military service. The case is being investigated by Columbia police and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' inspector general.
Truman Hospital spokesman Stephen Gaither said the agency is reviewing its patient safety and security measures, but declined to elaborate.