Defense focuses on abuse and PTSD
A physician who examined the son of Nicholas Pascarella Jr. said she based her determination that the 4-year-old had been sexually abused solely on the boy’s declaration that “Poppy did something bad to me, he touched my pee-pee and my butt.”
Dr. Monica Meyer, of the Ulster County Family and Child Advocacy Center, testified Thursday at Pascarella’s murder retrial that she examined the child three weeks after the alleged incident and found no signs of trauma, but she said a negative finding so long after such an incident would not be uncommon.
Pascarella, 41, is standing trial for second-degree murder for a second time for the December 2014 bludgeoning death of his father, Nicho-
Sr., 67. The first trial, in late March and early April, resulted in a hung jury.
RECAP: Thursday’s live tweets from Pascarella murder trial
The defense does not dispute that Pascarella killed his father but says the defendant suffered from posttraumatic stress disorder due to a lifetime of physical and mental abuse at the hands of the older man and the thought that the elder Pascarella sexually abused the 4-year-old. Pascarella suffered from extreme emotional disturbance that led to a “profound loss of self control,” the defense contends.
The prosecution says the abuse never occurred and Pascarella Jr. is a cold and calculating murderer.
Under questioning Thursday by Ulster County Assistant Public Defender MariAnn Connolly, Meyer said she told the 4-yearold’s parents that she believed the child sustained trauma because when she attempted to examine his rectal area, the child turned to the nurse and said, “‘She’s not going to hurt me, is she?’” and then “spontaneously” told the doctor his grandfather had touched him.
Asked under cross-examination by Ulster County Chief Assistant District Attorney Michael Kavanagh whether the child became upset when she touched his genitals, Meyer said “no.” Asked if she told the parents the trauma could have been from a spanking, Meyer also said “no.”
Pascarella went to his parents’ house in Marlborough sometime before noon on Dec. 27, 2014, and beat his father to death with a baseball bat he found on the property while his mother watched in horror from a window.
After killing his father, Pascarella drove to the Marlborough police station and turned himself in.
In the first trial, jurors were unable to agree on whether the defendant was guilty of murder or the of less-serious crime of manslaughter because he acted out of “extreme emotional disturbance.” They deliberated for more than four days without reaching a verdict and told Ulster County Judge Donald A. Williams they were deadlocked. Williams then declared a mistrial.
Also taking the stand for the defense Thursday were two psychiatrists who examined Pascarella in the days and months after he killed his father.
Dr. Sandra Antoniak testified she diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder during their first meeting in the Ulster County Jail.
She said she was so concerned with the defendant’s mental health that she saw him every two weeks, which she said is the most often inmates can be seen.
Antoniak said Pascarella Jr. exhibited all the signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, except, she said, he exhibited a type of “bravado” about his actions.
Dr. Dominic Ferro, a psychiatrist who evaluated the defendant, said he, too, believed that Pascarella suffered from PTSD as the result of a lifetime of physical and mental abuse by his father.
Based on his interviews with Pascarella and others, Ferro said, he believed Pascarella “had a profound lack of control” throughout his life and that although he killed his father nearly a year after the alleged abuse of the child occurred, Pascarella at the time acted under “extreme emotional disturbance.”
Ferro said that on the night before he killed his father, Pascarella and his son were out when the boy spotted a truck like the one Pascarella Sr. drove. Ferro said that Pascarella told him the boy “freaked out” and had nightmares all night.
“So this was the frame of mind in which he planned to go and attack his father,” Ferro said.
Under cross-examination, Ferro conceded that “recovered memories” of sexual abuse that Pascarella said he and his brother suffered at the hands of their father could have been imagined. But, he said, even if the abuse didn’t occur, “he does believe that it happened; those memories are very real in his mind.”
Also in cross-examination, Kavanagh asked whether Ferro’s opinion of Pascarella’s state of mind at the time of the killing would be different if the facts about incidents leading up to the killing as told
to him by Pascarella were not true.
Ferro said it would not, adding that rarely does he get so much information on which to base a diagnosis.
“I can say with very high degree of confidence that Mr. Pascarella has PTSD,” Ferro said, adding that Pascarella’s emotional state after hearing of the alleged abuse of his son made it impossible for him to rationally plan out the killing of his father.
The trial is to resume at 10 a.m. Friday with rebuttal witnesses called by the prosecution. They’re expected to offer testimony intended to rebut the testimony by defense experts.
“Jurors in Pascarella retrial hear admission of fatal beating, testimony about alleged abuse of victim’s grandson,” Oct. 5, 2016 “Jury selection nearly completed for retrial of Clintondale man charged with killing father,” Oct. 3, 2016 “Retrial of admitted killer Nicholas Pascarella Jr. set for Oct. 3 in Ulster County Court,” June 21, 2016 “MISTRIAL: Pascarella murder case ends with jury in ‘absolute deadlock,’” April 8, 2016 “Pascarella jury finishes fourth day of deliberations without reaching verdict,” April 7, 2016 “Jury in Pascarella murder trial says it’s deadlocked; judge says try again ‘with an open mind’,” April 6, 2016 “Still no verdict in Pascarella murder trial in Ulster County Court; jury hints at being deadlocked,” April 5, 2016 “No verdict after first day of deliberations in murder trial of Clintondale man who killed his father,” April 4, 2016 “Marlborough homicide: The result of ‘extreme emotional distress’ or a ‘premeditated, cold-blooded murder’?” March 29, 2016 “Jury seated in murder trial of Clintondale man accused of killing his father; testimony begins Tuesday,” March 28, 2016 “Clintondale man pleads not guilty to murder in death of his father,” Oct. 21, 2015 “Clintondale man indicted for murder in December 2014 beating death of father,” Oct. 20, 2015 “Clintondale man, 39, fatally assaulted father, state police say,” Dec. 27, 2014