Attempted murder trial delayed for mental evaluation

GILLETTE — The attempted second-degree murder case against Joseph Cruzen has been suspended while he undergoes a court-ordered mental evaluation.

Cruzen’s attorney, Senior Assistant Public Defender Greg Steward, asked for the evaluation last week, saying in court documents that he “has concerns as to (Cruzen’s) capacity to comprehend his position, conduct his defense in a rational manner and cooperate with counsel in interposing available defenses.”

Steward said that although he has been able to talk with Cruzen, “matters have arisen which call into question the defendant’s competency to proceed” in the case.

District Judge John R. Perry ordered the evaluation by the Wyoming State Hospital, which will report and make a recommendation about whether Cruzen has a mental illness or deficiency that would make him unfit to stand trial. That report is supposed to be made within 60 days of Jan. 22, but there have been delays in other cases because of the state hospital’s workload.

Cruzen, 29, is accused of attempted second-degree murder for allegedly stabbing his estranged wife in the neck Oct. 3. He also is accused of kidnapping, interference with an emergency call and domestic assault in the case.

The woman’s sweatshirt was drenched with blood from a wound in her neck when police found her about 2 a.m. Oct. 3 in the Arbuckle Lodge parking lot. She had driven there after convincing Cruzen to let her leave and get medical help after she was stabbed, according to an affidavit of probable cause.

She drove from his mobile home on Garner Lake Road and tried to pull into the hotel’s parking lot, but was unable to stay in her lane and drove over the curb before she called 911, according to the affidavit.

“He stabbed me, he stabbed me,” she kept telling police, who reported in the affidavit that she was hysterical when they arrived.

She had a single stab wound about an inch in diameter to the base of the front of the neck above her sternum, according to the affidavit. She was bleeding profusely and her hands were covered in blood from trying to hold pressure on the wound. Police noted that the cut appeared deep.

Doctors who treated the woman said she was lucky to be alive because of the critical organs that the knife narrowly missed, like the jugular vein and carotid artery, Campbell County Attorney Ronald Wirthwein said during a preliminary hearing.

She told police that he had invited her over to his home that evening to try to mend their relationship — something she rejected. She tried to leave, but he blocked her way and refused to let her out. He also took her cellphone away, according to court documents.

They fought and he ended up on top of her on the ground and put his hands around her neck before she was able to fight him off and get up. He pulled a knife from his pocket and began cutting his right arm, then put the knife to his throat and threatened to kill himself, according to court documents.

She tried to calm him down, and he put the knife down.

But when she tried to leave again, he grabbed the knife and stabbed her, which she described as a long, quick jabbing motion, according to the affidavit.

She pleaded with him to get her phone back and to allow her to leave to get medical help, which he did.

She was taken to the emergency room, where she was treated and later released.

Cruzen wasn’t at his home when police tried to find him there Oct. 3, but was found and arrested about nine hours later in Casper.