Migrant accused in St. Johns County deputy’s death deemed unfit for prosecution by judge

An 18-year-old from Guatemala is deemed incompetent to face charges in connection with the killing of a St. Johns County deputy, according to Judge R. Lee Smith. This conclusion is the result of a thorough analysis of the testimony given on December 22nd during a hearing regarding mental capacity.

Smith directed the authorities to see to it that Vergilio Aguilar-Mendez gets given the medical attention he needs while he is being held.

In order to support their claim that Aguilar-Mendez is not able to stand trial, Smith’s attorneys raised four points. They state that the eighteen-year-old:

Attorney for migrant accused in St. Johns County deputy s death calls for charges to be dropped ...
  • Can t aid in the preparation of his defense
  • Does not appear to appreciate the nature of the charge against him or the range and nature of possible penalties
  • Does not appear to understand the adversary nature of the legal process and does not appear to understand the role of his public defender
  • Has a significant deficit in his understanding of the legal system

Regretfully, he is unable to help with defense planning.

It appears as though he is unaware of the charge against him and the possible repercussions.

The defendant does not appear to be aware of the adversarial character of the court system or the function of their public attorney.

He doesn’t have a deep comprehension of the law.

Aguilar-Mendez was present during the hearing on December 22 and was assisted by an interpreter. Experts from the state and defense discussed whether or not he is mentally competent to stand trial.

Psychologists testified on behalf of the defense during that hearing, emphasizing Aguilar-Mendez’s sixth-grade educational background. They observed that he frequently answers “yes” to questions without hesitation, gives contradictory information, and has trouble remembering things.

In addition, he speaks Mam, a Spanish-derived dialect that serves as his first language.

According to the state-provided transcripts, Aguilar-Mendez answered most of the questions posed by the detectives during the interview with them while utilizing a translator.

Concerns were also expressed by the state over Aguilar-Mendez’s degree of effort in attempting to comprehend the circumstances.

Aguilar-Mendez ought to be admitted to a forensic hospital for competence training, according to the defense.

The migrant’s attorney, who is charged in the sad death of a St. Johns County deputy, is requesting that the charges be dropped before the bond hearing.

Aguilar-Mendez first came into contact with St. Johns County Sgt. Michael Kunovich in May when he saw someone suspicious standing outside of a shuttered store close to the St. Augustine Outlets.

After a battle with Aguilar-Mendez during which the latter sought to search and imprison Kunovich, the latter collapsed and died at the hospital.

Kunovich died, the medical examiner concluded, from cardiac dysrhythmia brought on by excessive blood pressure and artery damage. The coroner ruled his death to be natural, noting that physical strain and possible psychological strain from chasing after a runaway suspect were significant causes.

Read more: The same physician who delivered the father delivered the baby in New York City on New Year’s Day.


This Article Consists of

Let’s go through time to discover how the case developed.

Robert Hardwick, the sheriff for St. Johns County, discussed the incident at a press conference on violence against police on May 25. Sky 4 shot aerial video of Kunovich’s memorial service the next day.

Aguilar-Mendez’s accusation of felony murder was dropped on July 21 and was replaced with aggravated manslaughter.

The defense team for Aguilar-Mendez made the request for a psychological assessment on August 1. By October 11th, the assessment was finished.

The defense team for Aguilar-Mendez filed a motion on November 21st asking for a hearing and bond to be established. According to the complaint, Aguilar-Mendez was waiting on an immigration hearing and only spoke a small amount of English. He was working at nearby fields in St. Augustine during this period, and he was lodging at the Super 8.

The defense filed indicated that Kunovich’s cause of death was a heart attack. Body camera footage from the event showed that there was a language barrier and that trying to arrest him took a long time.

Some viewers may find the graphic content in the video upsetting. It is crucial to use caution when watching as a result. In an effort to be open and considerate of the families involved, News4JAX has decided to only air the first two minutes of the nine-minute video. The events leading up to the arrest are clearly seen in this unedited video.

The family of Aguilar-Mendez in Guatemala employs a civil lawyer on December 11.

National media outlets begin to pay attention to the story on December 15.

When News4JAX reached out to Hardwick on December 19th about the event, he declined to comment.

The Sheriff’s Office released a 44-page comprehensive incident report to the public on December 20th. Numerous statements from deputies who were on the scene, an interview with Aguilar-Mendez, and the medical examiner’s report are all included in the report.

A hearing was held in court on December 22 to assess Aguilar-Mendez’s mental capacity.

Judge R. Lee Smith rules on December 29 that Aguilar-Mendez is not competent to face trial.

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