Mental evaluation for slashing suspect
November 9, 2005
The wait for Steve Wasserman’s Wednesday preliminary hearing on charges stemming from allegations he attacked and severely injured his ex-girlfriend with a sword lasted 25 minutes.
The hearing was not as long. It was pushed back to Dec. 27 at 10 a.m. so the defense can have a doctor evaluate Wasserman’s mental competence.
“It’s going to help everybody anticipate where the case is headed in regards to whether Mr. Wasserman is going to pursue his insanity plea,” prosecutor Tony Sears said.
The 32-year-old former construction foreman is accused of attacking his ex-girlfriend, 35-year-old Susan Rizk, last month with a 2-foot sword. He has pleaded not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity.
The dual pleas mean if Wasserman is convicted, another trial would take place to determine whether he was insane at the time of the crimes.
He’s being held, on suicide watch, in El Dorado County Jail in lieu of $10 million bail.
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The audience in the El Dorado County Superior Court was dotted with uniformed and plainclothes law enforcement officials, friends and family of Rizk and a Reno journalist wearing red suspenders.
The group sat mostly quietly and talked in hushed tones as Wasserman fidgeted in his chair in the jury box. He appeared impatient.
After awhile, he turned his back to the gallery and faced a wall.
Before the proceeding a bailiff provided a box of tissue to a tearful lady sitting in a row with Diane Watson, Rizk’s older sister.
Watson said her sister is recovering from more than a dozen slashes to her head and body. Rizk has had four surgeries that averaged four to five hours, Watson said. Staples on some cuts were removed Tuesday, Watson added.
“Susan is doing really well,” Watson said. “She’s working through the infections. Everything’s great. They did surgery on her hands yesterday and it was successful. Doctors were very pleased. They have her abdomen almost completely closed. She’ll be on a ventilator probably for another week until they can get her abdomen closed.”
Rizk is somewhat alert and could be released from Washoe Medical Center in less than a month, Watson said.
Rizk’s daughter, whom she conceived with Wasserman and was present at the apartment when the attack occurred, is in the care of friends. The child is seeing a counselor but taking piano classes, said Watson, who spoke to a judge Wednesday morning in a hearing to determine who could care for the youngster.
The wait was primarily caused by Sears and defense attorney Lori London meeting with Judge Jerald Lasarow in chambers.
When court convened at 1:55 p.m., Lasarow announced the hearing will be pushed back to Dec. 27 if Wasserman agreed.
“I’m not an attorney so I will accept the advice of my attorney,” Wasserman said in a loud tone.
Lasarow hinted the two sides could reach an agreement before Dec. 27. Sears said he made a plea deal offer to London before the hearing but would not go into detail about what it contained.
Katherine Suter, a family friend of Rizk, watched the hearing. She said Wasserman looked at her.
“He mouthed something to us,” she said. “Glares and smiles, like he’s really proud of what he did.”
“Yeah, it’s tough to see him. I almost threw up,” Suter added.
Wasserman is charged with three felonies: attempted murder, aggravated mayhem and residential burglary. The attempted murder and residential burglary charges carry special allegations involving great bodily injury and the use of a dangerous weapon.
The mayhem charge also included the special allegation of use of a deadly weapon.
He’s also charged with two misdemeanors of endangering a child and violating a restraining order. The maximum sentence for all of the felonies is life in prison.
Yet if Wasserman is found guilty of the crimes but determined insane when he did it, he would be sentenced to the care of a mental health facility until he’s deemed safe to re-enter society.
His stay in a mental facility would range from 18 months to the rest of his life.
Wasserman has been diagnosed as being bipolar and was prescribed medication for the disorder.
The South Lake Tahoe community has tried to financially support Rizk, her daughter and family members who broke from work to be with her at the Reno hospital. An account was established at U.S. Bank and a spaghetti fundraiser at Sierra Community Church last week netted more than $11,000.
Overall the church raised more than $15,000 for Rizk.
“It’s just been a huge blessing,” said Mikayla Stephens, who helped put on the event.
Lasarow scheduled a Dec. 9 hearing to receive the status of the case at 1:30 p.m.