Tonawanda News

November 18, 2013

TOWN: Attorneys discuss diagnosis for elderly man accused of manslaughter

By Jessica Bagley
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — BUFFALO — A defense attorney for Chester Rusek, the 88-year-old man accused of brutally beating his nursing home roommate last November, 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, 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 charge.

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. 

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 records and he wanted to enact 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 June hearing.

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