Doctor: Little evidence ex-wrestler Snuka has brain trauma

ByMICHAEL RUBINKAM Associated Press via AP logo
Wednesday, May 18, 2016

ALLENTOWN, Pa. -- There's little evidence that pro wrestling star Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka, who is charged with killing his girlfriend more than three decades ago, has a significant history of concussion or other brain trauma, a psychiatrist testified Wednesday.

Dr. John O'Brien testified for the prosecution at a mental competency hearing for Snuka, who is fighting to avoid trial on murder and involuntary manslaughter charges in the 1983 death of Nancy Argentino.

The defense contends Snuka is mentally unfit, partly because of the head trauma he suffered over a long career in the ring.

But O'Brien said there's little evidence of that in Snuka's medical records. References to Snuka's cognitive impairment only began showing up after Snuka learned that prosecutors in Lehigh County had re-opened the investigation into Argentino's death, he said.

Snuka's brain scans do not reflect "anything other than normal aging," O'Brien said.

On Friday, the first day of Snuka's competency hearing, a defense psychologist asserted that Snuka suffers from dementia. But O'Brien said Snuka was able to comprehend and respond appropriately to questions before a grand jury last year.

Snuka, who turned 73 on Wednesday and was in the courtroom, has pleaded not guilty and is free on bail. His attorney, Robert Kirwan II, has called Argentino's death an "unfortunate accident."

The wrester, a Fiji native who lives in New Jersey, had been at a World Wrestling Federation taping at the Allentown Fairgrounds in May 1983, and told police shortly after Argentino's death that he had returned to their Whitehall Township hotel room to find her unresponsive in bed. She was pronounced dead at a hospital several hours later.

An autopsy determined she died of traumatic brain injuries and had more than three dozen cuts and bruises, and it concluded her injuries were consistent with being hit with a stationary object. But the probe went cold, and Snuka continued his high-profile pro wrestling career.

Prosecutors reopened the investigation after a 2013 newspaper report raised questions about the case. He was charged last year.

Snuka was known for diving from the ropes in a career that has spanned several decades, including appearances as recently as last year. He was admitted into the World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Fame in 1996.