No competency hearing for LaRosa

The Niles Times

WARREN — Defense attorneys for a Niles teenager charged with the aggravated murder, aggravated burglary, aggravated robbery and attempted rape of an elderly neighbor withdrew a motion requesting a competency hearing.

A pre-trial for defendant Jacob LaRosa, who just turned 18, is set 11 a.m. Sept. 22.

Assistant Trumbull County Prosecutor Chris Becker said the state of Ohio considers all defendants competent to stand trial unless proven otherwise. Efforts to reach defense attorney Matthew Pentz were not successful.

LaRosa, who was 15 at the time of the crime, is accused of beating Marie Belcastro, 94, of Cherry Street, to death on 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 Trumbull County Common Pleas Court.

A suppression hearing at which the defense will seek to have thrown out statements made by the defendant and items seized by the police department during a search as possible evidence will take place Dec. 28, according to Becker. The trial is scheduled to take place Feb. 12, 2018.

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.

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.

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.

LaRosa remains at the Juvenile Justice Center on a $3 million bond.