An 87-year-old man accused of using a 2½-pound magnet to pummel his roommate at an assisted living facility was charged Wednesday with first-degree manslaughter.
Clad in orange jail garb, Chester Rusek appeared in court in a wheelchair. He pleaded not guilty.
He held his hand to his left ear and scratched it as he sat, hunched forward, in the wheelchair during much of the 10-minute arraignment. Rusek wore sandals and no socks.
Rusek seemed confused when State Supreme Court Justice Christopher J. Burns informed him that he had a right to be at every hearing and then asked him to sign a document confirming that he was so instructed.
“I’m hard of hearing,” Rusek replied.
“I’ve got to say something,” Rusek added, before defense attorney Barry Dolgoff told him to whisper what he wanted to say to him.
“I can’t read this. I don’t have my glasses,” Rusek told Dolgoff in a voice loud enough to be heard in the courtroom.
Dolgoff read the statement to him, and then Rusek signed the paper.
Burns granted Dolgoff’s request for 45 days to file motions. “It’s a very sad case,” Dolgoff said after the arraignment.
A grand jury indicted Rusek on the manslaughter charge, prosecutor Paul E. Bonanno said.
Police said Rusek repeatedly beat his 86-year-old roommate, Salvatore Trusello, with the magnet Nov. 26 as Trusello lay in his bed in Kenwell-DePaul Senior Living Community on Delaware Avenue in the Town of Tonawanda.
“That assault by the defendant on his roommate, Salvatore Trusello, led to Mr. Trusello’s death one month later,” Bonanno said during the proceeding.
The prosecution’s evidence includes a two-page statement from Rusek and a DVD of his interview by detectives, Bonanno said.
Trusello suffered a broken rib, a punctured lung and damage to his kidneys in the attack, police have said. The blows struck Trusello on his head, face, chest and wrist.
Trusello spent the next month in the intensive care unit at Erie County Medical Center, where he died Dec. 27, according to the Erie County District Attorney’s Office.
In the meantime, Rusek has been in the Erie County Holding Center.
Trusello and Rusek had shared a room for less than two months when the incident took place. Rusek allegedly beat Trusello because he apparently believed his roommate was stealing from him.
After the attack, Rusek used his walker to go down the hall and tell an attendant to get help.
“He’s going to need medical attention,” Rusek told the attendant, according to police reports. “I just beat his [expletive].”
“I didn’t want to kill him,” Rusek later told police. “I just wanted to get even.”
Dolgoff said he expects the case to go to trial. “Let jurors decide,” he said.
If convicted, Rusek faces a maximum prison sentence of 25 years.
“Any sentence for this gentleman would be a death sentence,” Dolgoff said.
Dolgoff said he is concerned about how the stress of the criminal case will affect Rusek.
“It’s stressful on anybody, no matter how old they are,” he said.
Asked if he planned any steps to determine if Rusek was able to help with his own defense, Dolgoff replied: “We’re exploring every avenue we can at this point.”
Dolgoff declined to discuss Rusek’s background but said Rusek did not have any prior criminal convictions.
“You don’t want this to be the final epitaph written on his tombstone,” Dolgoff said.