A Rome man accused of beating his 61-year-old uncle to death in 2005 appeared in Oneida County Court on Friday morning after his “depraved indifference” murder conviction was overturned last week.
Although a state appellate court recently dismissed Ricky LaGasse’s second-degree murder conviction stemming from the 2005 beating death of his uncle, LaGasse’s parents on Friday said that just isn’t good enough.
LaGasse still faces two lesser manslaughter charges related to 61-year-old Paul Jansen’s bludgeoning, but those charges should be tossed out just as well, LaGasse’s mother said.
“It should never have come this far,” Barbara LaGasse said after he son appeared in Oneida County Court Friday.
“He’s not guilty of all charges,” said Barbara LaGasse, who is also the victim’s sister. “We hope he gets justice this time.”
Ricky LaGasse had already served nearly three years of a 22-year-to-life prison sentence when an appellate court in Rochester ruled last week there was insufficient evidence that he had acted with “depraved indifference” toward his uncle’s welfare.
By overturning the jury’s verdict, LaGasse, 48, of Rome, and prosecutors will now have to consider where they go from here.
“I still believe we have a strong case with the counts remaining on the indictment, and now it’s time to go forward,” First Assistant District Attorney Dawn Catera Lupi said earlier this week.
LaGasse is due back in court Wednesday to be assigned a public defender and to determine whether bail will be set.
LaGasse could accept a possible plea offer with a much more limited prison term, which would not exceed 25 years, prosecutors said.
Or LaGasse could take his case to trial once again – and thus revisit his troubled past that may have fueled the deadly confrontation inside Jansen’s North Bay home on Route 49.
During the November 2005 trial, 12 jurors heard testimony describing how:
- Jansen’s alleged rape of Ricky LaGasse as a child in the 1970s caused LaGasse to turn to alcohol and drug abuse in order to cope with emotional scars.
- On April 7, 2005, an angry and intoxicated LaGasse punched his uncle several times in the head after Jansen showed LaGasse pictures of naked men and then made comments about the past rape.
“You’re still crying about what happened 30 years ago,” Jansen allegedly told LaGasse before grabbing a knife and threatening him, according to testimony. “It’s over. Grow up and deal with it. I have.”
- LaGasse offered Jansen an ambulance after the scuffle, but Jansen refused. The two then made up, LaGasse testified, and Jansen was sitting on the couch drinking a beer by the time LaGasse left.
- Several hours later, a ranting LaGasse told a 911 operator about the fight while also voicing hatred toward “pedophiles.”
“I hit him three times in the face,” LaGasse told the dispatcher, according to testimony. “I took half his ... face off. I hope he's dead … I hurt him real bad. I hope he lives just long enough so I can shoot him right in the ... face.”
At other times during the conversation, however, LaGasse said he wouldn't really shoot Jansen, and that he was “just blowing off steam.”
Prosecutors never accused LaGasse of wanting to kill his uncle – which would have been an element of intentional murder. Instead, Lupi argued that LaGasse intentionally meant to seriously hurt Jansen by punching him several times.
Doctors testified Jansen did not suffer a skull fracture. Instead, they said, he died after an untreated blood clot swelled in his brain.
Prosecutors then offered the basis for charging LaGasse with “depraved indifference” murder: After LaGasse realized the extent of Jansen's injuries, he callously chose to leave his uncle in a locked, secluded home where he would not immediately be found.
State appeal courts have since disagreed with such a line of reasoning.
Several weeks after LaGasse was found guilty – and before he was sentenced – the state Court of Appeals in December 2005 ruled that “someone who intends to cause serious physical injury does not commit depraved indifference murder (just) because the intended victim dies.”
Instead, the court stated, “one who acts with the conscious intent to cause serious physical injury, and who succeeds in doing so, is guilty only of manslaughter.”