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Judge rejects ‘diminished’ defense in South Hackensack standoff

Photo Credit: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter
Photo Credit: Mary K.Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter
Photo Credit: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter

ONLY ON CVP: Steven Spalnick wasn’t suffering from “diminished capacity” when he kept South Hackensack police and a Bergen County SWAT team at bay for hours on Christmas night 2011 after authorities said he beat his wife as she held their 5-month-old son, a judge in Hackensack ruled yesterday, clearing the way for a trial beginning next week.

Even a psychologist enlisted by Spanick’s attorney “does not say he has the inability to form intent,” one of the standards that must be met for such a defense, Superior Court Judge James J. Guida said.

The expert said that Spalnick previously was diagnosed with depression, suicidal thoughts and post-traumatic stress disorder, caused in part by abuse as a child, which “caused him to exercise poor or impaired judgment,” according to Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor Jessica Gomperts.

Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor Jessica Gomperts (STORY / PHOTO: Mary K.Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter)

That doesn’t meet the legal standard of diminished capacity, which requires proof of a mental disease or defect that could have prevented a defendant from forming the “requisite intent,” she said.

“I am not making light of the defendant’s problems,” Gomperts told the judge. “He may very well suffer from PTSD, suicidal ideation and homicidal ideation, but none of those allow a defense of diminished capacity.”

Spalnick, a 42-year-old Army veteran, is charged with three counts of aggravated assault on a police officer, aggravated assault against his wife and endangering his boy, along with two counts of weapons possession and resisting arrest.

As CLIFFVIEW PILOT originally reported, Spalnick’s third wife called for medical attention from the couple’s locked bathroom after he hit her — apparently for not inviting him to a Christmas party — according to police.

Finding Spalnick with a knife in each hand, the medics retreated and called police, authorities said.

South Hackensack officers chased the knife-wielding Spalnick into another room and summoned the SWAT team, a commanding officer at the scene told CLIFFVIEW PILOT .

“He chose a bedroom in the corner of the house, so he was basically trapped,” he said. “The only way out was the window.”

A nearly five-hour roller-coaster round of talks followed — first with South Hackensack police and then with negotiators from the Bergen County Police Department SWAT Team.

While those talks continued, South Hackensack firefighters dramatically raised a ladder to the bathroom window and carried the woman and child down.

“We were concerned because he said he wanted to go out in a blaze of glory,” the commanding officer told CLIFFVIEW PILOT .

“The holidays affect some people really hard,” the officer added. “But the negotiators stayed with him, kept him talking. He eventually began crying. He was still a little weepy when he walked out.”

Defense attorney Bob Cherry contended that medical reports from the time didn’t adequately explain injuries that Spalnick’s wife sustained in the standoff.

He asked Guida for a new medical exam.

“That’s ridiculous,” Gomperts countered.  “The jury is absolutely allowed to hear the extent of the victim’s injuries.  The hospital records are absolutely relevant.  The victim suffered a concussion, broken nose, contusions, scratches.  These are now all healed.”

The judge agreed, denying Cherry a second exam.

Jury selection in the case begins next Wednesday morning.

STORY / PHOTO: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter

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