In the trial of Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka, expert witnesses are battling over the former professional wrestler’s competency to stand trial.
Snuka, 72, is charged with third-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in the death of his former girlfriend Nancy Argentino. A 23-year old Argentino was found dead in 1983, after authorities were called to the couple’s hotel room. Argentino was later determined to have died of brain trauma. Prosecution alleges that Snuka fractured Argentino’s skull and then failed to call for help. The charges were brought against Snuka after the release of Superfly: The Jimmy Snuka Story and a 2013 investigative news story by The Morning Call uncovered a previously unreleased autopsy report indicating that Argentino’s death should be investigated as a homicide.
Prosecution’s Expert Testifies as to Snuka’s Competency
Snuka’s trial was scheduled to begin in March, but his attorney, Robert Kirwan II, filed a motion for a competency hearing. Arguing that Snuka’s mental health had declined steadily over recent months, Kirwan stated that Snuka “had no idea what charges he faced” and that “[h]e has no recollection of the incident.”
Judge Kelly Banach of Pennsylvania’s Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas scheduled a competency hearing. Attorney for prosecution, Chief Deputy District Attorney Charles Gallagher III, requested an independent evaluation of Snuka’s fitness for trial. Gallagher noted that Snuka “has had a career in entertainment.”
At the competency hearing, psychiatrist Dr. John O’Brien testified for the prosecution. O’Brien testified that Snuka’s demeanor was in contrast to the “level of dysfunction he’s alleged to have” and that he’s “very different than how he is described in medical records.” O’Brien stated that Snuka’s medical records do not support a diagnosis of dementia and that he doubted claims that he has a post-concussive disorder. He further noted that, while one report claims that the former wrester had hundreds of concussions, none of these claimed concussions were ever documented. O’Brien opined that Snuka was competent to stand trial.
Defense Expert Testifies Snuka Has Brain Damage
O’Brien’s opinion differed from that of defense expert, forensic psychologist Dr. Frank Dattilio. Dattilio testified that Snuka has permanent brain damage following a long professional career of taking numerous blows to the head along with a history of drug and alcohol abuse. Dattilio testified that he determined that Snuka wasn’t competent to stand trial before the grand jury hearing in 2015, and that Snuka’s mental health has declined since his initial report. Dattilio opined that Snuka suffers from dementia and post-concussive disorder, and that his treating behavioral neurologist determined that his condition was “worsening by the month.”
Snuka also took the stand during the hearings, spending more than an hour on the witness stand. Under Judge Banach’s questioning, Snuka spoke about his wrestling career and his signature attack, the “Superfly Splash,” but was unable to remember names of sports figures or politicians or even his own age.
This was the first time that Snuka has spoken in court in this matter. Snuka was previously summoned by the grand jury, but refused to testify, asserting his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
The court’s ruling on Snuka’s competency is not expected for at least one month.