Niagara Gazette

Courts

November 18, 2013

Attorneys debate diagnosis in nursing home beating case

Niagara Gazette — BUFFALO — A defense attorney for Chester Rusek, the 88-year-old man accused of brutally beating his nursing home roommate, argued Monday that his client's recent dementia diagnosis should be entered as evidence in the manslaughter trial.

"This not only impaired his judgment but prohibited him from checking or inhibiting his behavioral actions," attorney Barry Dolgoff said.

Rusek, who was brought into court in a wheelchair Monday, is charged with attacking Salvatore Trusello, 86, on the morning of Nov. 26, 2012, at the Kenwell De-Paul Senior Living Community. A month later, Trusello died, and Rusek's first-degree assault was upgraded to first-degree manslaughter.

In September, Erie County Court doctors evaluated Rusek and declared him to be competent. At Dolgoff's request, the defendant was subsequently evaluated by his own doctor, who agreed with the first findings. As a result, Dolgoff dropped his challenge concerning Rusek's ability to stand trial.

But the doctor diagnosed Rusek with frontotemporal dementia, which is characterized by a shrinking of brain lobes and is associated with symptoms such as inappropriate actions, lack of judgment and empathy, compulsiveness and behavioral changes.

Prosecutor Paul Bonanno objected to the admissibility of the evidence, and said defense attorneys are required to submit their intent to present such information within 30 days of the arraignment.

"It should speak to the mental state at the time of the incident," he said. "Now it's a year after the crime."

Dolgoff argued that Rusek's state is likely not substantially different now.

Bonanno also said that the physician's report does not clearly state how the psychiatric issue affected Rusek on the day of the alleged crime. Penal law specifies that the diagnosis must lead the defendant to not appreciate his actions or appreciate what he did wrong, he said.

Bonanno asked to submit his objections in writing. The two attorneys will then be back in court Nov. 27 to argue the matter in more detail. 

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