Ruling on LaRosa’s mental status is expected next week

WARREN — A Trumbull County judge is expected to rule next week on whether a Niles teenager is mentally fit to stand trial on aggravated murder and other felony charges linked to the March 2015 death of an elderly neighbor.

A status conference is set for 1:30 p.m. Wednesday for defendant Jacob LaRosa, 17, in the courtroom of Common Pleas Court Judge W. Wyatt McKay.

McKay said Thursday he received the psychological report from the Forensic Psychiatric Center in Austintown, and is forwarding it to the attorneys in the case — public defenders Matthew A. Pentz and David T. Rouzzo and assistant Trumbull County Prosecutor Christopher Becker.

The court officials have been waiting more than three months for this report that could shed light on LaRosa’s mental state.

The defendant is charged with aggravated murder, aggravated burglary, aggravated robbery and attempted rape after Trumbull County Family Court Judge Sandra Stabile Harwood in late 2015 ruled LaRosa be tried as an adult. That decision has survived several defense appeals, including one that was refused by the Ohio Supreme Court.

The legal maneuvers have postponed two trial dates set for the case, the latest being March 20.

LaRosa remains in a cell at the county’s Juvenile Justice Center in lieu of posting $3 million bond.

The teen, who will turn 18 in July, is accused of beating Marie Belcastro, 94, to death March 30, 2015, with a blow to the head with a blunt object, according to a Niles police report. Belcastro was found just after 5:30 p.m. that day. At 5:35 p.m., police were called to LaRosa’s home after he stumbled inside covered with blood, according to a search warrant filed in Common Pleas Court.

LaRosa knew Belcastro, who lived in Niles for decades. Witnesses said she paid him for lawn work on several occasions. The woman was also known to bake cookies for the neighborhood children.

In the fall of 2015, Harwood ruled LaRosa as mature and not mentally disabled, so he could be tried in the adult system. In 2016, the Ohio Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal after the 11th District Court of Appeals had denied the defense’s attempt to move the case back to juvenile court.

The teen had previously undergone seven years of failed treatment in the juvenile system, the judge noted. The Niles Police Department had 19 reports from incidents involving LaRosa dating back to September 2013.