Tonawanda News

June 5, 2013

Elderly slaying suspect in court

By Jessica Bagley jessica.bagley@tonawanda-news.com
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 brought into an Erie County Court room in a wheelchair Tuesday for a pre-trial hearing that centered on statements he allegedly gave to police after the incident. 

Chester Rusek, who repeatedly attempted to speak out in court Tuesday, was initially charged with first-degree assault in the Nov. 26 beating of his roommate Salvatore Trusello, 86, at the Kenwell De-Paul Senior Living Community.

In January, the charge was upgraded to first-degree manslaughter after Trusello succumbed to his injuries Dec. 27. Rusek pleaded not guilty to the crime. 

Rusek’s attorney, Barry Dolgoff, requested Tuesday’s pre-trial Huntley hearing to challenge whether Rusek’s statements to police were made voluntarily — in an attempt to get them barred from the impending trial. 

Assistant District Attorney Paul Bonanno began the hearing by calling Town of Tonawanda police officer Mark Muscoreil to the witness stand.

“They directed me to room 112 where a male was bleeding and being attended to by paramedics,” Muscoreil, who was the first officer to report to the scene, said. “There was blood on the bed, blood on the floor and he was in extreme pain.” 

Although Trusello was badly injured and not able to respond to many of Muscoreil’s inquiries, he did tell the officer that his roommate hit him with a metal object. 

Muscoreil testified that he then located Rusek sitting in a chair outside the facility. As the officer approached, Rusek asked him where his patrol car was, and whether he was going to arrest him for what he had done.

“When I asked him what he had done, he said he had beat his (expletive) ass,” Muscoreil said. 

When Muscoreil asked what Rusek had used in the attack, Rusek produced a speaker magnet the size of a hockey puck attacked to string. 

“He said, ‘I don’t want to kill him, I just wanted to get even,’” Muscoreil testified, noting that Rusek believed Trusello had gone through his personal records and paperwork.

After photographs were taken of the magnet and of the blood on Rusek’s hands, Muscoreil arrested him. 

On cross examination, Dolgoff questioned Muscoreil on why he didn’t read Rusek his Miranda rights. In response, Muscoreil said he was simply attempting to determine if he had a crime scene on his hands — or if it was another one of the low-scale fights that often happen at the facility — as well as ensure the safety of the facility by determining if Rusek had a weapon on him.  

“I wasn’t attempting to interrogate him,” Muscoreil said.

Lt. Tom Haynes, who had a brief encounter with Rusek on the day of the incident, was then called to the stand. Haynes directed Muscoreil to arrest the defendant after the assault and then helped with the suspect’s processing. 

Haynes testified that he only communicated with Rusek about a baseball hat that was left in the back of Muscoreil’s vehicle.

When asked if the hat was his, Rusek said, “It was the Sicilian’s,” referring to the victim. “I took it as a souvenir. (Expletive) him,” Hayes testified of Rusek’s comments. 

“I was shocked to say the least,” Haynes said. 

Haynes said he also did not read Rusek his Miranda rights and, like Muscoreil, characterized Rusek’s statements as voluntary. 

Detective Todd Ciehomski, who completed the official interrogation of Rusek, then testified about his delivery of the Miranda rights, his questioning of Rusek and the completion of the suspect’s written statement. Ciehomski described Rusek as coherent and said he was able to give him his address, room number and date of birth. 

“He was forthcoming,” Ciehomski said. 

But Dolgoff questioned Ciehomski’s ability to judge an elderly man’s state of mind, and repeatedly pointed out Ciehomski’s lack of training in questioning the elderly.

Ciehomski admitted that he didn’t question Rusek about a number of other matters often used to judge an individual’s cogency — such as the day, date and the current president. 

On redirect examination, Ciehomski repeated that he had “no reason” to think those questions were necessary based on Rusek’s “coherent” demeanor. 

The two attorneys will submit written arguments to the court in the next six weeks, and then Erie County Court Judge Michael Pietruska will make his final decision on the admittance of Rusek’s statements. 

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