By Alan Keays, VTDigger
EAST POULTNEY— Roderick Geronimo looked straight ahead and showed no emotion as he admitted killing his 82-year-old mother by slamming a kitchen table into her chest and bashing her over the head with a pair of wine bottles. Geronimo, 55, who according to court records told police after the killing that he was “casting out the devil” he believed possessed his mother, pleaded guilty Thursday to manslaughter.
He had been charged in July 2012 with second-degree murder in the death of Gertrudes Alwardt in a home they shared in East Poultney.
“Is it correct that you did directly cause the death of Ms. Alwardt by shoving the table into her chest and striking her over the head two times with a wine decanter?” Judge Cortland Corsones asked Thursday.
“Yes, your honor,” Geronimo replied.
The hearing in Rutland Superior Court had been set for attorneys to argue for suppressing statements Geronimo made to police after the killing. Instead, Geronimo pleaded guilty to the reduced felony charge. Corsones instructed the state Department of Corrections to prepare a sentence recommendation.
The manslaughter charge carries a maximum sentence of up to 15 years behind bars. Geronimo has been jailed since his arrest in July 2012. A sentencing date has not been set. A second-degree murder charge carries a sentence of 20 years to life in prison.
Rutland County Deputy State’s Attorney Peter Bevere said after the hearing Thursday that Alwardt’s relatives were aware and supportive of the reduction of the charge to manslaughter. None attended Thursday’s hearing.
Geronimo told police after the killing that he “smoked marijuana all day, and every day” and was taking Lexapro, a prescription drug used to treat depression and anxiety. Also, Geronimo had been under a great deal of stress caring for his mother, who was in failing health, Bevere said.
“Both sides have engaged the expert services of psychologists,” the prosecutor said. “I think both experts would agree that Mr. Geronimo was under a psychotic event at the time.”
Mary Kay Lanthier, a public defender representing Geronimo, described it as a mental health case. “These cases take a long time to really be figured out,” she said after the hearing. “Nobody is disputing that he was in a psychotic state when this occurred.”
Police were called to the East Poultney home overlooking the village green a little after noon July 2, 2012, for a reported medical emergency, Bevere said in court. Alwardt was accompanied by her son in the ambulance as she was taken to Rutland Regional Medical Center, where she died, the prosecutor added.
Back in East Poultney, Bevere said, Vermont State Police troopers saw in the home a tipped-over kitchen table with a broken leg and two areas of blood on the kitchen floor.
At the hospital while his mother received care, Geronimo initially told a detective that he had returned home to find his mother had fallen in the kitchen. Geronimo later told the detective, “Yes, I think I killed my mother,” Bevere said.
Later, at the state police barracks in Rutland, Geronimo was in an interview room alone and “whispered into a recording device that he had killed his mother because she was evil and that God had told him to do it,” Bevere said.
Geronimo also told police his mother was seated at the kitchen table on the morning of the killing and he thought she was possessed by the devil, according to the prosecutor. He then pushed the table into his mother, Bevere said, before striking her over the head with one wine decanter and then a second.
The prosecutor added, “[Geronimo] indicated she was breathing at that point in time so he began to pour water from the bottle into her mouth in order to cast the devil out in Jesus’ name, and he was trying to bless her with holy water.”
The autopsy showed she died of blunt force trauma to her head and torso, Bevere said in court.
According to her obituary, Alwardt, known as “Gigi,” enjoyed worldwide travel. She was born in the Philippines and worked as a secretary in the government there before moving to the United States.