Doctor: Ex-wrestler mentally incompetent for trial

In this Nov. 2, 2015 file photo, former professional wrestler Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka leaves the Lehigh County Courthouse in Allentown, Pa. (Michael Kubel/The Morning Call via AP, File)

ALLENTOWN, Pa. (AP) — Former professional wrestler Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka suffered so many blows to the head during his long career — even getting a coconut smashed on his skull — that he now suffers from dementia and is mentally incompetent to stand trial in the death of his girlfriend more than three decades ago, a psychologist testified Friday.

Snuka’s severe mental impairment also stems from a history of abusing alcohol and cocaine, Dr. Frank Dattilio testified at the former wrestling star’s competency hearing.

Snuka was charged with murder and involuntary manslaughter last year in the 1983 death of 23-year-old Nancy Argentino, who was from New York. The 72-year-old former professional wrestling standout’s lawyer asserts he doesn’t understand the charges or even know he was arrested.

Lehigh County Judge Kelly Banach, after hearing from prosecution and defense experts, will decide if Snuka is competent to stand trial.

Snuka, who was in the courtroom for Friday’s hearing in Allentown, has pleaded not guilty and is free on bail. His attorney, Robert Kirwan II, has called Argentino’s death an “unfortunate accident.”

Testifying for the defense, Dattilio said he had a “hell of a time” trying to get even basic background information from Snuka.

“This is permanent damage, and he’s not likely to be restored to competence,” Dattilio said.

The wrester, a Fiji native, had been at a World Wrestling Federation taping at the Allentown Fairgrounds. He 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.

After a 2013 story by The Morning Call newspaper raised questions about the case, Argentino’s sisters approached Lehigh County District Attorney Jim Martin, who reopened the investigation.

A grand jury report said Snuka, who lives in Waterford Township, New Jersey, had provided more than a half-dozen shifting accounts of Argentino’s injuries, at first telling paramedics he hit her during an argument outside their hotel room and she struck her head on concrete, then saying to police she slipped and fell during a bathroom break on their way to the hotel.

The grand jury also said it heard evidence that Snuka beat Argentino four months before her death and repeatedly assaulted his wife, Sharon Snuka, in the fall of 1993. Snuka has long maintained his innocence.

Snuka was known for diving from the ropes in a career that spanned four decades. He was admitted into the World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Fame in 1996, according to the organization’s website.