A Clintondale man was convicted last week in the brutal beating death of his father after jurors rejected defense claims that he was suffering “extreme emotional disturbance” when he committed the crime.
On Tuesday, October 11, a jury deliberated for just two hours before finding Nicholas Pascarella Jr. guilty of second-degree murder in the December 27, 2014 murder of his 67-year-old father in the driveway of the elder man’s Town of Marlborough home. It was Pascarella’s second trial on the charges; last year, a jury deliberated for four days before informing County Court Judge Donald Williams that it was hopelessly deadlocked.
The facts of the case were never in dispute. On the morning of December 27, 2014, Pascarella, 41, went to a local gym, worked out, then drove to his father’s home and asked for him. When informed by his mother that his father was showering, Pascarella waited in his vehicle. When Pascarella Sr. came out of the house, his son set upon him with a baseball bat, inflicting fatal blunt-force trauma. District Attorney Holley Carnright said that Pascarella Jr.’s mother witnessed the entire attack from inside the house.
But Ulster County Assistant Public Defender MariAnn Connolly argued in court that Pascarella was acting under “extreme emotional disturbance” when he assaulted his father. The assertion was based on allegations by Pascarella that his father had physically and sexually abused him growing up, and later abused his 4-year-old son. State police opened an investigation into the abuse allegation in early 2014 and later closed it after Pascarella Sr. denied any wrongdoing and they were unable to substantiate the claims. Connolly argued that Pascarella suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder caused by his father’s abuse. Connolly argued that Pascarella’s emotional disturbance was triggered when his son became upset when he saw a pickup truck that resembled his grandfather’s.
“Extreme emotional disturbance” is a legal concept that used to be called “temporary insanity.” The defense is based on the concept that certain events can trigger an uncontrollable reaction that precludes the forethought and planning that are necessary elements for a murder conviction. Classic examples of events that might trigger an extreme emotional disturbance are walking in on a spouse having sex with someone else, or witnessing a child being struck and killed by a car.
But Chief Assistant District Attorney Michael Kavanagh argued that Pascarella’s crime fell far short of the extreme emotional disturbance standard. Instead, prosecutors believe, the murder was carried out as part of a pact between Pascarella and his estranged wife, Michelle. Prosecutors played phone calls Pascarella made to his wife from the Ulster County Jail after the murder in which he discusses the attack as part of a prearranged plan rather than a spontaneous act. “I told you I would do it and I did it,” Pascarella tells her in one recorded conversation.
“Those phone calls were not consistent with him having done this while in some sort of psychosis,” said District Attorney Holley Carnright. “The wife’s handprint is on this investigation, not to the level that we felt she should be charged, but there was a plan.”
Judge Williams gave jurors the option of finding Pascarella guilty of first-degree manslaughter if they determined that Pascarella was indeed acting out of extreme emotional disturbance. Instead, the panel found him guilty of second-degree murder. Pascarella is due to be sentenced on December 16. He could get 15 years to life or 20 years to life in state prison.