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Long Island man guilty of fatally strangling elderly mother

James Olsen is escorted through the hall of the Nassau County Court on May 28, 2014, as jurors deliberate in his murder trial.
James Olsen is escorted through the hall of the Nassau County Court on May 28, 2014, as jurors deliberate in his murder trial.
Photo Credit: Mike Balsamo

A Long Island man could spend the rest of his life in prison after jurors convicted him Thursday on murder charges after he admitted strangling his elderly mother to death in the Garden City home.

James Olsen, 59, wouldn’t say anything after a Nassau County jury found him guilty of second-degree murder for the April 2011 death of his 88-year-old mother, Ruth Olsen. The ex-computer repairman had been hoping jurors would find he was “not responsible by reason of mental disease or defect,” his lawyer said. Jurors, all of whom declined to comment on the deliberations, dismissed the affirmative defense when they found him guilty of intentional murder.

During a trial that lasted nearly three weeks, prosecutors had asserted Olsen planned his elderly mother’s slaying when he set out a necktie the night before. The next morning he woke up, grabbed the tie, went into his mother’s bedroom and began strangling her as she slept, Assistant District Attorney Christine Geier said. “She woke up while her own son was strangling her to death, she said, ‘You’re choking me,’ and he pulled tighter,” the prosecutor told jurors during closing statements.

Olsen’s defense attorney, Paul Delle, said his client didn’t deny killing his mother, but said Olsen was mentally ill and didn’t understand what he was doing was wrong. He said the ex-computer repairman, who had a history of psychosis and suicide attempts, had grown tired of being the sole caregiver for his ailing mother didn’t want her to be sent to a nursing home after he killed himself. Olsen attempted suicide after killing his mother and several hours later called 911 seeking help.

Olsen’s brother, Steven Olsen, 60, said he was unhappy with the jury’s verdict. “My mom would be horrified,” he said. “I believe my mother forgave him as it was happening.” He said he hoped his brother would receive therapy in prison. “I think he needs care.”

Delle said he was surprised and disappointed by the jury’s verdict. He said he didn’t fault jurors, but believed they may have been “misled” when prosecutors suggested Olsen exaggerated his suicide attempt and manipulated a psychiatrist. Delle said he intends to appeal the verdict.

“Caring for an elderly loved one can be very difficult, but James Olsen had no right to murder his mother, Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice said in a statement. “This verdict ensures he will be held accountable for this crime.” Olsen will be back in court next month for sentencing.