Tonawanda News

February 19, 2014

Elderly suspect appears in court

By Jessica Bagley
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — BUFFALO — Chester Rusek, the 88-year-old man accused of killing his nursing home roommate in the Town of Tonawanda, appeared in Erie County Court Tuesday morning for a brief discussion concerning his mental state at the time of the alleged crime.

Prosecutor Paul Bonanno said that the court was set to receive subpoenaed records from the Kenwell De-Paul Senior Living Community. Attorneys and Judge Michael Pietruska will then review the documents and report back on April 1.

“We will then determine if we need to hear from your experts on what should or shouldn’t be used to evaluate his mental state at the time of the incident,” Pietruska said.

Rusek, who was brought into court in a wheelchair Tuesday, allegedly attacked 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 charge was upgraded to first-degree manslaughter.  

Tuesday’s appearance comes after Rusek’s attorney, Barry Dolgoff, argued his client’s recent dementia diagnosis should be entered as evidence in the trial. 

In September, Erie County Court doctors evaluated Rusek and declared him competent to stand trial. 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 assist in his own defense.

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.

“This not only impaired his judgment but prohibited him from checking or inhibiting his behavioral actions,” Dolgoff argued during a hearing in November. 

Bonanno has 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.”

In response, Dolgoff argued that Rusek’s state is likely not substantially different now. 

Rusek has been detained since the attack, when he allegedly made a homemade weapon, fashioned from a 2-1/2 pound magnet from a speaker and an 18-inch piece of string.

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).”

Police reported to the scene shortly thereafter. Trusello, in a semi-conscious state, was able to identify Rusek as his attacker.

The victim was sent to the hospital with serious injuries, including a broken rib, punctured lung and severely bruised face.

Meanwhile, Rusek remained in the foyer area of the center, located at 3456 Delaware Ave. According to police, he fully cooperated with authorities and even asked an officer where his patrol car was so he could get into it. Rusek told police that Trusello had gone through his medical records and he wanted to exact revenge.

Monday’s appearance came after a pretrial hearing in June, when Dolgoff challenged the admissibility of statements Rusek made to police after the attack.

“He said, ‘I don’t want to kill him, I just wanted to get even,’” police officer Mark Muscoreil, who arrested Rusek, said at the hearing. 

Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000 ext. 4150, or follow her on Twitter @JessicaLBagley.