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Former lawmaker too frail for trial, experts testify

| Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, 8:54 p.m.

WILKES-BARRE — A former senator from Northeastern Pennsylvania is mentally unfit to assist in his defense and is too sick and frail to stand trial on federal corruption charges, defense and court-appointed experts testified on Monday at the ex-lawmaker's competency hearing.

Prosecutors want to try Raphael Musto, 84, on charges including bribery and fraud. The defense argues he can't withstand the rigors of a trial.

District Judge A. Richard Caputo said he'll issue a ruling on Tuesday on the competency issue.

The Pittston Democrat suffers from cognitive impairment and extreme fatigue and is unable to meaningfully assist his attorneys, testified Dr. Susan Rushing, a court-appointed psychiatrist who examined Musto and found him incompetent to stand trial.

“He was easy to engage in conversation but very difficult to keep on track,” said Rushing, adding “the logic of his answers didn't always flow.” She said she doubts he'd be able to testify effectively.

Musto's trial has been delayed repeatedly because of concerns about his health. Caputo rejected a previous attempt by Musto's attorneys to postpone it indefinitely, ruling the “magnitude and seriousness of the case” took precedent, and that a medical professional could be on hand to address Musto's health issues.

More than 14 months since that ruling was issued, Musto's attorneys returned to Caputo, arguing his health continues to decline.

A defense witness, Dr. Cataldo Doria, said Musto has a life-threatening aneurysm that could rupture with the stress of a trial. Musto also suffers from advanced liver cirrhosis, which is affecting his stamina and ability to concentrate, said Doria, a liver expert and chief of transplant surgery at Philadelphia's Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.

When he last examined Musto in October, the doctor said, “He was more confused. He was less aware of his surroundings. He was much slower in his speech, and at times he was not focusing on our conversation.”

A court-appointed liver specialist, Dr. K. Rajender Reddy of the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, said Musto's cirrhosis shouldn't prevent him from attending trial, noting he had a 90 percent chance of surviving another two years with the condition. But Reddy said his opinion concerned the defendant's liver disease, not his other ailments.

The retired lawmaker attended the hearing, rising briefly when the judge entered. He sat quietly during testimony and walked in and out of the courtroom slowly but under his own power.

Prosecutors say Musto accepted cash and free building renovations in exchange for his help obtaining taxpayer funding of development projects, and took additional cash as a reward for helping a municipality get state loans.

He has pleaded not guilty. His trial is scheduled to begin Jan. 13.

Musto was elected to the state House of Representatives in 1971 to fill the unexpired term of his late father, James Musto. He spent a term in the U.S. House of Representatives in the early 1980s and then won election to the state Senate in 1982.

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