Murder suspect claims insanity

Defendant appears to talk with herself

A Cortez woman pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity Monday for the Sept. 19 stabbing death 62-year-old Charles Chaves.

Valerie Espinoza, 38, repeatedly smiled, frowned, scowled, sobbed and even snarled while talking to herself at her arraignment on Monday, Feb. 10. Her emotions changed from moment to moment throughout the nearly two-hour proceeding.

District Court Judge Todd Plewe asked the defendant a series of questions related to her not guilty plea by reason of insanity. Once, Espinoza responded in the third person, and on two occasions, she replied to Plewe, saying “yes, ma’am.”

Plewe advised the defendant if she was found not guilty by reason of insanity, then she would be committed to treatment with the Colorado Department of Human Services for an indefinite amount of time.

“That means forever?” asked Espinoza, her voice crackling.

Plewe explained that if human services found the defendant was sane, then a hearing would be held to determine if she would be released.

Public defender Justin Bogan said he intended to file a competency hearing, but Plewe said that wasn’t necessary. The competency evaluation would determine if Espinoza is able to assist with her defense.

As a result of pleading not guilty by reason of insanity, Plewe also advised Espinoza that she waived her right to confidentiality, meaning that mental health officials could testify as to anything relayed during their conversations.

A Montezuma County grand jury indicted Espinoza on second-degree murder charges in October in connection to the homicide. Records show the victim was stabbed seven times in his upper torso with a butcher knife during an early morning attack inside the victim’s S. Madison Street home.

Court records reveal a roommate discovered the victim on the night in question lying on his bed “gasping for air.” The roommate told police that he recovered a bloody butcher knife from the defendant before she left the scene.

Espinoza’s competency and mental status will be determined at the Colorado Mental Health Institute in Pueblo. Bogan said it could take several months before his client is even admitted to undergo the evaluations.

Plewe ordered a March 20 status conference for an update on the case