BOISE — The 76-year-old man who was stabbed at his Boise home last fall said the suspect approached him as he was raking his leaves, then followed him into the house before the attack.
The victim, Gary Vinsonhaler, testified in court Thursday in the case of 38-year-old Ruben Diaz, on trial for one count of attempted murder. A judge Thursday ruled there’s enough evidence for the case to move forward.
Vinsonhaler told the court he was raking leaves in his front yard on the morning of Nov. 8 in the 3800 block of Preamble Place when he caught sight of Diaz.
Diaz had just served 10 years in prison for two prior stabbings, and had been paroled in July. Diagnosed with schizophrenia, Diaz had been living in an assisted living facility while on parole at nearby Hancock House, less than a half-mile away from Vinsonhaler’s house.
Vinsonhaler didn’t know that at the time, however. In fact, he said in court, he’d never seen Diaz before. He remembered, though, the younger man looked confused.
The two were alone on the street, but Vinsonhaler still spoke to him.
“I was trying to help him,” Vinsonhaler testified in court Thursday. “I knew he was disoriented, so I backed up and kept that 15-foot distance pretty much the entire time.”
According to Vinsonhaler’s testimony, Diaz said something Vinsonhaler didn’t quite catch, although he later realized Diaz may have been asking about Hancock House. Then Diaz said Vinsonhaler had a little black dog. That was a warning sign for Vinsonhaler.
“This was not normal,” he said. “We certainly don’t have a dog at all.”
Vinsonhaler continued backing up and did his best to leave the conversation, he remembered. Diaz didn’t appear to have any sort of weapon, but Vinsonhaler still wanted to call the police, because Diaz obviously needed help. He didn’t want to call 911, he said, but he needed to look up a non-emergency number. He left Diaz outside — or so he believed — and stepped inside to find the correct phone number.
As he was doing that, he heard a noise, he said. He looked up from the computer and saw Diaz standing in the hallway, between himself and the door.
“Well he was just standing there,” Vinsonhaler said. “He only said something after I asked him to leave. Once I looked in the hallway and saw he was standing there in the hall — 1,000 things go through your mind at this point.”
Vinsonhaler said he told Diaz to leave, but Diaz simply said, “No.”
Vinsonhaler still didn’t see a weapon on Diaz’s person, but he was worried and knew he needed to get out of the house, he told the court. So he brushed past Diaz in the hallway and made it through the front door.
“I figured I would go next door and call the police, and if he was still in the house they could remove him from there,” Vinsonhaler said.
Just after he was through the front door, he felt Diaz grab him from behind, he said. Then he caught sight of the knife in Diaz’s hand.
“There was this — actually, I thought it was a pruning saw — was cutting my face,” Vinsonhaler said.
As he tried to fend off the blade, Diaz cut Vinsonhaler’s hands, he remembered. By the time police arrived, Vinsonhaler had severe cuts and was covered in blood.
Brek Orton, the first Boise police officer who responded to a 911 call about the incident, testified “it was obvious an attack was taking place,” and remembered Diaz was standing over Vinsonhaler when he pulled his car to a stop.
With his gun drawn, he ordered Diaz to drop the knife, which the officer believed was 8 to 10 inches long. Diaz didn’t, Orton said, and instead moved toward him.
“I legitimately thought I was going to have to use deadly force,” Orton said in court. “He didn’t drop the knife. … He was telling me to kill him or shoot him and at one point he licked the blade of the knife, or appeared to lick the blade of the knife, as I was talking to him.”
Eventually Orton and another officer used Tasers on Diaz twice. Even once they had him on the ground, he didn’t drop the knife, which had a handle that looped around his wrist. Orton had to break the blade from the handle with a baton.
“Once I broke the knife off the handle he … swiped at me twice with the handle,” he said.
Officers rendered first aid to Vinsonhaler until more first responders rushed him to a nearby hospital. Diaz was also taken to a hospital before he was booked into the Ada County Jail.
In December, a judge ruled Diaz was mentally unfit for trial and ordered he undergo treatment in one of Idaho’s state psychiatric hospitals. He received treatment until April, when doctors concluded he was mentally competent to proceed in the case, and a judge agreed with them.
Thursday was the longest he’d been in court since the incident in November.
Fourth District Court Judge James Cawthon, who oversaw Thursday’s hearing, scheduled an arraignment in the case for June 25.