ALLENTOWN, Pa. A Harvard psychologist testified on Friday that former professional wrestler Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka was incompetent to stand trial in the 1983 death of his girlfriend in Allentown, but prosecutors attacked his conclusions.
Dr. Frank Dattilio said at Snuka’s competency hearing that he had run months of tests on the man, who is charged with third-degree murder in Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas in Allentown. Among them were tests to determine if Snuka was faking his deterioration.
“I believe that he is not competent to stand trial,” Dattilio said. “I feel that he is not competent to assist his attorney in his defense. And I believe the pressure of a trial will cause his mental state to deteriorate even further.”
Snuka, now 72, is accused of beating his girlfriend, Nancy Argentino, 23, to death in 1983 after an appearance in Allentown.
Her death was deemed accidental at the time, but an autopsy report calling it homicide was unearthed by the Allentown Morning Call newspaper several years ago and led to charges last year.
Snuka, dressed in a navy blue suit, his long gray hair pulled back, listened intently but showed little reaction. In the hallway outside the courtroom, he smiled and laughed with well-wishers and family.
Dattilio said Snuka is illiterate, has a severely impaired IQ of around 80, and suffers from worsening dementia. He quoted the wrestler’s personal physician as calling him “a shell of a man.”
But Craig Sheetz, a Lehigh County deputy district attorney, attacked the credibility of Dattilio’s assessment, showing video clips made within days of the doctor’s tests in which Snuka seemed alert and engaged, and in one case, winning a tag team wrestling match.
The prosecution’s own mental expert had yet to testify in the hearing.
Snuka, a native of the Pacific island nation of Fiji, was a World Wrestling Federation star in the 1980s along with wrestlers Hulk Hogan, Roddy Piper, and Andre the Giant. He was known for climbing to the top rope and diving onto the chest of a prone opponent.
That was one of the moves he demonstrated in the video shown by Sheetz during his cross-examination of Dattilio.
Testimony in the competency hearing will resume on Wednesday.
(Editing By Frank McGurty; Editing by Tom Brown)