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Elderly woman and son to face trial for husband's death, torture
BARSTOW • A Barstow judge ruled to hold an elderly woman and her son to answer for first-degree murder, torture and abuse of the woman’s elderly husband — despite arguments the man died of natural causes.
Ruth Ruffalo, 82, walked gently into the Barstow Superior Court room, her frail frame chained at the waist and wrists, clad in an inmate’s jumpsuit. She sat behind her son, Marcus Razario, 51, who was at the counsel bench, representing himself for the preliminary hearing Thursday.
At the hearing, three deputies from the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department gave testimony, discussing their investigation into 85-year-old Michael Ruffalo’s death, which began with a welfare check 10 days earlier.
On Sept. 19, deputies were called to the Ruffalos’ home on the 29000 block of Dryden Street in Barstow. There, officers were brought into a room where Michael Ruffalo lay on a bloody bed, blood on the ceiling and blood all over the walls, the deputy testified. The deputy observed the victim appeared severely beaten.
According to Razario, the father and son got into an argument where the father threatened Razario with a gun, though the victim said the story was made up, the deputies testified. Then, Razario said he knocked his father onto the bed, pinned him down by sitting on his chest and beat him with his fists. Razario also told them Ruth Ruffalo used a stun gun on the victim. She allegedly admitted to this in later interviews.
The victim told deputies the beating lasted three and a half hours. During cross examination, Razario asked if the deputy remembered Razario told him the beating was five minutes and the deputy did not.
When the beating was over, Razario said he took a shower to wash the blood off, the deputy testified. The victim asked for medical care several times, but was denied.
During the attack, Michael Ruffalo sustained facial fractures, broken ribs and severe bruising on his face, neck, chest, arms and back near his kidneys, according to medical and autopsy reports reviewed during the hearing. He also had about 20 burns from a stun gun.
However, his autopsy report found he died of natural causes related to a urinary tract infection sustained while in the hospital recovering from the attack. The report, which was peer-reviewed, stated the victim’s injuries did not directly cause the infection and therefore were not listed as a cause of death.
Razario and Ruth Ruffalo’s Defense Attorney Michael Duncan argued the two shouldn’t face murder charges, since the pathologists determined they didn’t cause his death.
“I think to have a murder you have to have a homicide,” Duncan said.
The prosecution introduced the opinion of an elder abuse specialist and director of geriatrics for U.C. Irvine who read over the report and determined his injuries would have been a significant factor in his death.
After all arguments were said, Judge John Gibson took a 10 minute break before giving his decision, leaving the courtroom thick with anticipation. Gibson ruled to hold the defendants to answer to all charges except one: accessory after the fact. He said he decided to weigh on the opinion of the geriatric specialist who had the benefit of reviewing the other doctor’s findings.
“It was a difficult case and I think the judge carefully considered the evidence in making the holding order,” Deputy District Attorney Shannon Faherty said. “Now it will be up to a jury.”
For this case, Razario and Ruth Ruffalo are due back in court for arraignment on Sept. 25.
If convicted of all charges, each would face a minimum of 25 years to life in prison.
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