More than 30 years after the girlfriend of pro wrestling legend Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka died under mysterious circumstances, the now-frail wrestling Hall of Famer who stands accused of killing her is maintaining his innocence.
During a formal arraignment in a Lehigh Valley courtroom Monday morning, Snuka, born James Wiley Smith Reiher, entered a not guilty plea to third-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in the 1983 death of his then-girlfriend, Nancy Argentino.
At his court appearance, Snuka did not appear to know the day of the week or the location of the courthouse. His attorney said the 72-year-old has early-onset dementia and post-concussion syndrome. Snuka told the judge he can't read or write English.
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The charges came after a grand jury determined that Snuka, now 72, caused bruising and other injuries that led to Argentino’s death in a Whitehall Township motel room after a World Wrestling Federation event at the Allentown Fairgrounds in May 1983. Snuka was one of the WWF's biggest superstars at the time.
"(Snuka) repeatedly assaulted Nancy Argentino on May 10, 1983 and then allowed her to lie on their bed at the George Washington Motor Lodge without obtaining the necessary medical attention," said Lehigh County District Attorney Jim Martin.
Snuka had given conflicting accounts of what happened the night of Argentino's death, including saying she fell and hit her head on the concrete, according to prosecutors.
The case went cold for more than 30 years. Martin reopened the case after a newly revealed autopsy report appeared in the Morning Call that led to grand jury charges.
Argentino had a multitude of face, scalp and body bruises and abrasions that were consistent with domestic abuse, Martin said.
Argentino's family won a wrongful death lawsuit against Snuka in 1985.
Snuka, now living in Waterford Township, New Jersey, was known as “Superfly” for his high-flying antics in the ring, was inducted into the WWE (formerly WWF) Hall of Fame in 1996.
"WWE expresses its continued sympathy to the Argentino family for their loss," the organization said in a statement at the time of Snuka's arrest. "Ultimately this legal matter will be decided by our judicial system."
The WWE removed Snuka from its website shortly after the charges came to light.
Snuka wrote about Argentino's death in his 2012 autobiography, maintaining his innocence and saying the episode had ruined his life.
"Many terrible things have been written about me hurting Nancy and being responsible for her death, but they are not true," he wrote. "This has been very hard on me and very hard on my family. To this day, I get nasty notes and threats. It hurts. I never hit Nancy or threatened her."
However, he had an alleged history of beating Argentino prior to her death, including one incident about four months earlier.
"In that case it was alleged that Mr. Snuka had been seen dragging Miss Argentino by her hair down a hall," Martin said. "According to testimony it took several sheriff's deputies to get Mr. Snuka under control."
Defense attorney Robert Kirwan II said Argentino's death was "simply an unfortunate accident ... not murder."
After his arrest, Snuka -- who looked frail and used a wheelchair, according to witnesses -- was fingerprinted then posted 10 percent of $100,000 bail in Lehigh County court, according to court records. His bail was left at that level since he is battling a terminal illness and Martin said he didn't want taxpayers to have to foot Snuka's medical bill.