Man accused in nursing home death undergoes mental evaluation

RYAN HUTTON/Staff photoJose Veguilla, 83, center, appears in Haverhill District Court on Monday. He’s accused of killing his 76-year-old roommate at the Oxford Rehabilitation and Health Care Center in Haverhill on Saturday night.

HAVERHILL — Facing charges that he killed his nursing home roommate by hitting him in the face and head with a walker, 83-year-old Jose Veguilla will spend 20 days in a hospital undergoing a competency evaluation before the case can move forward.

Charged with murder, Veguilla was arraigned Monday in Haverhill District Court, where Judge Patricia Dowling ordered that he be held without bail and committed to Bridgewater State Hospital for that evaluation.

According to a police report on file in Haverhill District Court, Veguilla swung a metal walker and hit Robert Boucher, 76, several times as he was lying in bed in their room at the Oxford Rehabilitation and Health Care Center, causing injuries to Boucher’s face and head.

The police report said that just after 7:30 p.m. Saturday, a nurse entered the room shared by Veguilla, Boucher and one other resident of the nursing home. The other man was out of the room. The nurse gave medication to Boucher and tried to give medication to Veguilla, who refused to take it, according to the report.

The report said the nurse left the room but returned when she heard commotion and saw Veguilla holding his walker close to shoulder height and Boucher bleeding heavily from his face and head. The nurse told Veguilla to stop and he warned her to leave the room or he would hit her, according to the report.

The report said other staff members called police and a nursing assistant then entered the room and saw Veguilla hit Boucher again with the walker, which was covered in blood. The nursing assistant talked to Veguilla, who speaks Spanish, and convinced him to leave the room, the report said. He was then escorted by several staff members to a common area, with his walker by his side, according to the report.

Veguilla told the nursing assistant that he thought “it was a setup and he had to kill Boucher,” according to the police report. The report did not elaborate on what Veguilla meant.

The nursing assistant told police that in her times working with Veguilla, she never observed any violent tendencies.

Shortly after police arrived, Boucher and Veguilla were both taken from the nursing home at 689 Main St. to Holy Family Hospital at Merrimack Valley in Haverhill, where Boucher was pronounced dead and Veguilla was kept under police watch, the report said.

A New Hampshire woman who police said is Boucher’s health care proxy, told investigators that Boucher suffered from dementia.

At Monday’s arraignment of Veguilla, court psychologist Kerry Nelligan, who examined Veguilla said he has dementia, was disoriented at the hearing and didn’t know what day, month or year it is.

Nelligan said Veguilla has no history of major mental illness, although he did suffer a fall in 2018 that resulted in a traumatic brain injury and that since that time he has been in a number of hospitals and rehabilitation centers. She said he could not remember if he had a lawyer and thought that she was his lawyer.

Nelligan recommended an inpatient evaluation for Veguilla.

Dowling ordered that Veguilla be held without bail and that he be sent to Bridgewater State Hospital for 20 days for competency evaluation to determine how the court will handle the case. Dowling scheduled the next hearing for Oct. 25, although court officials said it is possible Veguilla’s competency evaluation could extend beyond the 20 days.

In court, Veguilla, who is 5 feet-6 inches tall and weighs 160 pounds, was handcuffed behind his back and appeared weak and confused. He walked with the assistance of a police officer.

Dowling appointed defense lawyer Jonathan Shapiro to represent Veguilla and waived the fee for legal representation.

A statement released Monday by the nursing home’s parent company reads: “Our hearts go out to the families of those involved in Saturday night’s incident. The safety and well-being of our residents is our primary concern, and we are fully cooperating with the Haverhill and State Police Departments in their ongoing investigation. Out of respect for that investigation, we will not comment any further at this time.’’

The statement came from Tim Brown, director of marketing and communications for Athena Health Care Systems.

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