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Jurors set to deliberate in trial of LI man accused in mother's slaying

James Olsen, 59, of Garden City, leaves court after a day of testimony in his murder trial for allegedly strangling his 88-year-old mother to death.
Photo Credit: Mike Balsamo

The fate of a Long Island man charged with strangling his elderly mother to death in their Garden City home is now in the hands of the jury after closing arguments in the murder trial Tuesday.

James Olsen, 59, faces up to life in prison if jurors find him guilty of second-degree murder in the April 2011 death of his 88-year-old mother, Ruth Olsen. Prosecutors have asserted the former computer repairman used a necktie to fatally strangle the elderly Alzheimer’s patient in a bedroom of the Garden City home they shared. His attorney, pointing to the fact Olsen allegedly attempted suicide before calling 911 for help, says he hopes jurors will find his client was insane when the homicide occurred.

“When the 911 operator asked ‘What’s going on sir?’ he said the following words: murder, suicide, unsuccessful,” Assistant District Attorney Christine Geier told jurors during closing arguments Tuesday. “He was the first to call this murder. He knew what he was doing.”

Prosecutors have said Olsen admitted to investigators that he thought about strangling his mother the night before, set out a tie and then went to bed. The next morning, he grabbed the tie, headed into his mother’s bedroom and began strangling her while she slept, Geier said. “She woke up while her own son was strangling her to death, she said ‘You’re choking me,’ and he pulled tighter,” Geier said, describing to jurors how he allegedly pulled “until her face was purple and blood was coming out of every orifice.” Olsen allegedly attempted suicide after killing his mother and several hours later called 911 seeking help.

His defense lawyer, Paul Delle, said Olsen doesn’t deny killing his mother, but is pursuing an insanity defense. He said his client, who has a history of psychosis and suicide attempts, grew tired of being the sole caregiver for his ailing mother and didn’t want her to be sent to a nursing home after he killed himself. “He kept hearing ‘kill yourself, kill yourself, kill yourself,’” Delle said, describing audible hallucinations he said his client suffered from. “He was obviously sick. There was obviously something wrong with him.” Delle has said he hopes jurors will find Olsen didn’t have the capacity to understand what he was doing.

Prosecutors, however, fired back in court, saying Olsen hatched the plan to kill his mother and then set the wheels in motion the next morning. “James Olsen, when he did this to his mother, knew he was doing the wrong thing,” Geier said as she showed jurors photos of Ruth Olsen’s dead body. “This defendant killed his mother because he was fed up, because he was tired and sad and didn’t want to take care of her anymore.” Jurors are expected to being deliberating in the case on Wednesday.

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