Tonawanda News

January 23, 2013

Elderly man pleads not guilty in fatal nursing home beating

By Jessica Bagley
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — BUFFALO — The 87-year-old man accused of brutally beating his roommate at a Town of Tonawanda assisted living facility was arraigned Wednesday on a charge of first-degree manslaughter.

Although Chester Rusek was initially charged with first-degree assault after the incident, the victim, Salvatore Trusello, 86, succumbed to his severe injuries and died Dec. 27.

The case was then sent to a grand jury, which returned an indictment of manslaughter, according to Erie County Assistant District Attorney Paul Bonanno.

Rusek, appearing in court in a wheelchair, pleaded not guilty Wednesday to the charge before State Supreme Court Justice Christopher J. Burns.

Rusek allegedly attacked Trusello at 9:30 a.m. on the morning of Nov. 26, while the victim was still in bed at the Kenwell De-Paul Senior Living Community.

Rusek had fashioned a weapon from a speaker magnet, tied to a 2 1/2 inch piece of string. He used the weapon to beat Trusello repeatedly in the head, chest and wrist.

After the assault, Rusek, with the assistance of a walker, shuffled down to the front desk and told an employee to call for medical help for Trusello, telling her, “I just beat his (expletive).”

Shortly thereafter, police arrived, and Trusello, in a semi-conscious state, was able to identify Rusek as his attacker.

Trusello was sent to Erie County Medical Center's intensive care unit with a broken rib and punctured lung, police said, where he died the next month.

Rusek cooperated fully with authorities, and was taken back to the police department for an interview following the assault. Police said he confessed to the crime, and said he was angry at Trusello for stealing his records.

He allegedly told officers, “I didn’t want to kill him, I just wanted to get even.”

Bonanno said he has a tape of the interview as evidence, and provided Rusek's lawyer, Barry Dolgoff, with a copy Wednesday.

Rusek has been held in the Erie County Holding Center without bail since shortly after the incident.

"It's a sad case all the way around," Dogloff said. "The elderly are discarded, and confused ... they think differently than we do, because we have means ... we are thinking clearly. Their world is completely different once they are housed." 

Dogloff did not say whether or not Rusek's treatment or mental stability would be an issue during court proceedings.

If convicted, Rusek faces a maximum prison sentence of 25 years. 

"Any prison sentence will be a death sentence for him," Dogloff said. "He is in poor health ... he walks with two canes, he walks so slowly and so feebly."

Burns granted Dogloff's request to have 45 days to file motions.

Dogloff said he expects the case to go to trial.

"That is probably the ultimate place it will end up," he said.

Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000, ext. 4150