SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

October 27, 2012

Expert: Ronchi has disorders

Man on trial suffers symptoms of Asperger's, depression, anxiety, psychologist says

BY JULIE MANGANIS STAFF WRITER
The Salem News

---- — SALEM — A forensic psychologist hired by Peter Ronchi’s defense team told jurors yesterday that Ronchi suffers symptoms of a long list of disorders, including Asperger’s, depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as a cyst on a frontal lobe of his brain.

Dr. Thomas Deters, who spent 29 hours interviewing and testing Ronchi, suggested that the Marblehead man was also under increasing stress in the months before he killed his pregnant girlfriend, Yulyia Galperina. His massage therapy practice had failed, and there was tension between his children and his girlfriend’s children.

“He has significant neuro-psychological impairments consistent with a number of conditions or disorders,” Deters, who is affiliated with McLean Hospital and Harvard University, told the Salem Superior Court jury yesterday.

Ronchi, 48, is hoping a jury will find that he was temporarily insane when he repeatedly stabbed Galperina, 42, killing both her and their unborn son on the night of May 16, 2009.

Prosecutors say he planned to kill her, bringing a knife and a change of clothes to her Salem Heights apartment.

Deters said he reviewed Ronchi’s medical history, which included a series of blows to his head in childhood and in college, when he was briefly knocked unconscious during a soccer game. Ronchi told him he suffered increasingly serious headaches over the years, which worsened after he contracted dengue fever while serving in the Peace Corps in Costa Rica.

The psychologist told jurors that he also took into account Ronchi’s history, including his failure as a Spanish teacher at the Cape Ann Waldorf School, the failure of his massage therapy business, growing up in a “highly dysfunctional family” with an alcoholic mother who was sometimes abusive, and his trouble connecting with others in meaningful relationships, a sign of Asperger’s, a form of autism.

Deters also described the “gory death” of Ronchi’s mother from cancer — alluding to graphic details that had not previously been provided to jurors — as the source of his PTSD.

By the time of the killing, Deters said, Ronchi’s mother had died; he was estranged from his only sibling, Emil; and he had no other close friends. The psychologist told jurors the only significant people in Ronchi’s life at the time were his children and his girlfriend, Galperina.

(There was no reference by Deters to Susan Slowick, a woman Ronchi had been spending an increasing amount of time with in the six months before Galperina’s death).

Deters had not testified about his opinion on Ronchi’s state of mind at the time of the killing when testimony ended for the day.

Deters acknowledged the possibility that Ronchi could exaggerate or fake some complaints in order to appear worse, a concept called “malingering.” But he went on to cite tests that are intended to detect that.

Prosecutor Jean Curran told the judge later yesterday that she wants access to those tests, in order to look at what kind of weight Deters gave certain answers, in order to prepare for her cross-examination next week.

Deters’ testimony yesterday was one of two central pieces of Ronchi’s defense that came up yesterday.

Later in the day, after the jurors were sent home for the weekend, Yitaliy Yeziersky, the father of Galperina’s younger daughter, was called to the stand for a hearing to determine whether he would be required to answer a question put to him by the defense on Thursday: Had Galperina told him that the child was not his?

Ronchi says Galperina provoked the fatal stabbing by telling him that. If a second man were to make the same claim, it would potentially bolster Ronchi’s account.

But prosecutors objected, saying that it’s inadmissible because except in limited circumstances, evidence of a victim’s prior “bad acts” to show a propensity for that sort of conduct is considered too prejudicial, just as it would be for a defendant.

Yeziersky acknowledged that Galperina had said something similar to him, but insisted that it was in response to his joking assertion that she was engaging in sexual relations with her ex-husband during visitation with their son.

“Yes, the child I’m carrying is his,” Yeziersky said Galperina told him. “But it was a joke.”

Defense lawyer John Swomley and Yeziersky sparred for nearly 15 minutes, with Swomley accusing Yeziersky of telling a different story to a defense investigator.

At the end of the hearing, Lowy ruled that the statement cannot be used by the defense, and sent Yeziersky home.

The trial will resume on Tuesday.

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at jmanganis@salemnews.com or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.