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Retardation is debated

Homicide suspect Elvis Riccardi arrives for his hearing Tuesday morning.

Clark Van Orden/The Times Leader

WILKES-BARRE – A two-day-long hearing for a homicide suspect to determine if he is mentally retarded and cannot face the death penalty at his June trial will continue next week, a senior judge said.

Luzerne County Senior Judge Joseph Augello heard testimony Monday and Tuesday at the hearing for Elvis Riccardi, 33, charged with the May 2009 death of Donald Skiff.

The hearing will continue on May 10, Augello said, after witnesses were scheduled for flights Tuesday evening and testimony stopped.

In testimony Tuesday, forensic and clinical psychologist Leigh Hagan said not all IQ scores are accurate and a number of factors contribute to those inaccuracies.

Hagan, of Virginia, testified at the original Atkins v. Virginia hearing that resulted in a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the imposition of the death penalty on the mentally retarded constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

If Riccardi is convicted of first degree murder, he can either be sentenced to life in prison or the death penalty. However, Riccardi’s attorneys argue that he is mentally retarded and cannot face the death penalty.

Hagan was called by prosecutors to testify Tuesday afternoon to rebut a psychologist’s testimony on Monday that Riccardi has a low IQ and that it constitutes mild mental retardation in Riccardi.

Hagan testified Tuesday that the IQ score could be affected by a number of factors, including the person taking the test being depressed, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or being tired or distracted.

Psychologist Mark Cunningham, who testified most of Monday and Tuesday, was cross-examined by prosecutors Tuesday morning, and discussed interviews he did with Riccardi’s family members.

Those family members, Cunningham testified under questioning by Assistant District Attorney Molly Hanlon Mirabito, told Cunningham that Riccardi was a smart kid growing up and that he got along with his friends.

Riccardi’s sister told Cunningham that Riccardi reads the Bible in prison and that he used to use the Internet to help a nephew do homework.

Riccardi’s mother, Cunningham said, said her son would read the newspaper and discuss subjects with her, and he once bought a bus ticket to Miami and spent time in Florida.

Cunningham said that in a recent interview with Riccardi, Riccardi did not know the size of his pants, shirt or belt.

Mirabito said that if Riccardi suffers from a number of disorders, including conduct disorder and anti-social personality disorder, some of the symptoms are similar to symptoms of mental retardation.

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