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Man Ruled Unfit For Trial In Sex Assault Of River Vale Girl

Bernard Starr (PHOTO: Mary K. Miraglia) Photo Credit: Mary K. Miraglia
Defense attorney Adam Lustberg, Bernard Starr (PHOTO: Mary K. Miraglia) Photo Credit: Mary K. Miraglia
Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor Dion Findley, defense attorney Adam Lustberg, Bernard Starr (PHOTO: Mary K. Miraglia) Photo Credit: Mary K. Miraglia

RIVER VALE, N.J. -- A 78-year-old Florida man charged with sexually assaulting an 11-year-old girl while in town to visit a River Vale family is incompetent to stand trial, a judge in Hackensack ruled.

Today's competency hearing was the first of what could be several before Bernard Starr either recovers sufficiently to be tried or charges against him are dismissed and he is permanently committed to a mental treatment facility, CLIFFVIEW PILOT reported.

Starr, a married retiree, was arrested at his home in Port St. Lucie, FL in May 2013 and extradited to New Jersey. A judge later ordered him held at the state-operated Ann Klein Forensic Hospital.

If Starr were released, an Ann Klein psychiatrist testified today, he’d pose a danger to himself and others.

Starr, who attended today’s hearing in a wheelchair, is in a “competency restoration program” that, through medication and therapy, seeks to render defendants able to stand trial, Dr. Samson Gurmu told Presiding Superior Court Judge Susan J. Steele.

Among other standards, Gurmu said, the defendant has to understand both the court proceedings and the legal implications and be able to assist in his or her own defense.

Starr isn’t capable of that, the psychiatrist said.

He has undergone several eye surgeries in the past two months, suffered some complications and recently completed a periodic assessment of his mental condition, he said.

“That has affected him,” Gurmu said. “It has influenced his mood, his concentration and his functioning on the unit, socially and otherwise. It affects how he relates to his peers and the staff.”

“Just last month I sent him to the emergency room for a change in mental status.”

“Is it your opinion that he is unfit to stand trial at this time?” Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor Dion Findley asked.

“Yes,” Samson replied. “At the current time, Starr needs to be in Ann Klein or another supervised facility.”

Questioned by defense attorney Adam Lustberg, Gurmu said he reviewed reports prepared by two other Ann Klein doctors and meets with Starr once a week to monitor his medication.

Unless things change significantly, Lustberg told the judge, he will ask her to dismiss the charges against Starr and seek a permanent placement in a supervised mental facility.

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