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LI man asserts insanity defense in trial for mother’s slaying

James Olsen, 56, of Garden City, attempts to hide behind another inmate as he is escorted from court following the first day of testimony in his murder trial.
Photo Credit: Mike Balsamo

A Long Island man on trial for allegedly strangling his elderly mother to death in their Garden City home is hoping a jury will find he was insane when it happened, his defense lawyer said Friday.

James Olsen, 59, is accused of using his necktie to fatally strangle his 88-year-old mother, Ruth Olsen, in a bedroom of the Garden City home they shared. He then allegedly attempted to commit suicide before calling 911. Olsen has pleaded not guilty to a charge of second-degree murder, which could potentially send him behind bars for the rest of his life.

Prosecutors said Olsen told investigators he thought about strangling his mother the night before, then set out a necktie and went to bed. When he woke up the next morning, he grabbed the tie, headed into his mother’s bedroom and began strangling her while she slept, Assistant District Attorney Christine Geier told jurors Friday. “She woke up while he was doing it and said ‘you’re chocking me,’ and he pulled tighter,” Geier said. “He did exactly what meant to do – and that was to kill his mother.”

Prosecutors said Olsen attempted suicide after allegedly killing his mother. Several hours later, he called 911 seeking help. When the operator asked him what happened, he responded: “Murder, suicide. Unsuccessful.” Police officers arrived and broke through a door to enter the home, where they found Olsen naked and covered in blood in an upstairs bedroom, Geier said.

“Mr. Olsen, after being treated in the emergency room, was moved to a locked psychiatric ward,” defense lawyer Paul Delle said Friday. “He was there for a few months.” Delle said his client is now in general population at the county jail.

Delle said his client doesn’t deny killing his mother, but is pursuing an insanity defense in the case. He said Olsen grew tired of being the sole caregiver for his ailing mother, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. “Mr. Olsen didn’t have the capacity to understand what he was doing,” the defense attorney told jurors during his opening statement. “Basically, he didn’t have murderous intent.”

He pointed to a portion of the 911 call Olsen made – which was played for jurors Friday – where a police operator asks Olsen why he killed his mother. “Uh, I’m sick,” he responded. “You’re sick, okay, you said you have diabetes. What else is wrong with you,” the 911 operator, Amy Tabone, asked him. “I’m just crazy. I have to be crazy.”

While being escorted out of court, Olsen ducked behind other inmates as they were loaded on a bus heading back to jail. Geier, the prosecutor, declined to comment after the court proceeding Friday. Testimony in the trial is expected to continue Monday.

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