Killer’s family, hospital settle malpractice suit — (ZWire)

SSRI Ed note: Man taken to clinic with bizarre ideas not admitted, given Prozac and sent home, murders 2-yr-old son with patio brick. Mental illness blamed, lawsuit filed.

Original article no longer available


SCOTT FROST, Staff Writer


TRENTON — The malpractice case of the family of a psychotic killer blaming a Trenton hospital for not admitting the man the day he bashed his 2-year-old son in the head with a patio brick settled in court yesterday morning before the second week of testimony continued.

The family of Antonio Petrucca, who was determined by a judge as legally insane in 2002, settled on an undisclosed amount yesterday morning after only three witnesses for the plaintiffs took the stand.

The settle amount, as often in civil matters, remained a secret yesterday. And the lawyers for the family and Capital Health System refused to comment after Judge Bill Mathesius sent the jury home.

Frank Orbach, who represents Petrucca’s ex-wife Diana, and Ben Cittadino, Diana’s mother, Nancy Panzitta’s attorney, told their clients not to comment after the settlement was met.

During a break in legal arguments yesterday morning, Panzitta, 63, strolled the corridor outside Mathesius’ third-floor courtroom with a picture of 2-year-old Joseph.

She kissed the picture and stuffed it back in her pocket before heading back into court.

Panzitta had no comment to the settlement, nor did her 40-year-old daughter.

Both darted out of the court room in tears Wednesday when a the opening witness, Maria Ford, recounted seeing Petrucca beat his son with a patio brick.

“His last words were ‘no daddy no,’” Ford testified.

The family was suing Helen Fuld and Dr. Dario LaRocco, who managed the center’s crisis unit in 1999, on allegations the doctors never hospitalized Antonio the day he killed Joseph.

The day Antonio went berserk inside Panzitta’s Ewing home, where Diana and Nancy were left beaten and bloodied, the Petruccas were advised to go to the city’s crisis center by Petrucca’s private doctor, Mark Magariello.

The hospital, represented by Tom Walsh, said Petrucca arrived at the hospital looking for help to conquer depression issues after revealing to wife earlier that morning he was having an affair.

He later killed his son because he had delusions Nancy was a demon and his wife was a vampire, testimony revealed.

Petrucca had psychotic and homicidal delusions the only way to save himself from their powers was to kill their son, the family allege.

Petrucca was seen by five hospital officials on Sept. 22, including a screener, LaRocco’s resident and a psychiatric nurse, with all of them reporting the man was calm and never spoke of vampires, testimony revealed.

Antonio did talk about natural disasters, how he thought the world was going to end and how he didn’t want to hurt his children, which Orbach argued meant the homicidal psychosis was apparent back again.

According to testimony Petrucca was diagnosed as psychotic and hospitalized in 1993 for threatening his family with a gun.

But the hospital never reviewed the 1993 file and failed to inquire into Petrucca’s current state with Magariello — who ordered Diana to take Antonio to the crisis center the day of the eventual murder.

“We knew the vampire delusion was the whole psychosis,” Orbach said. “We know from the evidence we have the key to his ‘homocidality’ is back the morning of Sept. 22. That’s why he had to kill … to keep him safe from his psychosis.”

Arguments, without the jury present yesterday morning, centered mostly around whether or not Petrucca was psychotic at the hospital or not.

Mathesius argued that it could have been something else that might have trigger his delusional state.

Psychotic behavior that could lead to homicidal actions is not something that can tested with an MRI or a C.A.T. scan, Mathesius argued.

Orbach’s answer was that Diana took her husband to the hospital because he was accusing her of being a vampire and because he was acting much like he did in 1993.

LaRocco treated Petrucca as an outpatient and sent him home with a prescription for Prozac because he didn’t “want to rock the boat,” testimony revealed.

“In-between, it’s not clinically possible not to be psychotic,” Orbach said. “You have linkage.”

©The Trentonian 2005