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Son says he strangled mom on 911 call played at murder trial

James Olsen, of Garden City, who is accused

James Olsen, of Garden City, who is accused in the death of his mother, 88, in 2011, leaves the Nassau County Court in Mineola after opening statements in his trial on Friday, May 9, 2014. Credit: Howard Schnapp

When police found Ruth Olsen's body, the 88-year-old Garden City woman was in bed in a nightgown, her son's necktie still around her neck, a Nassau prosecutor said Friday.

Assistant District Attorney Christine Geier told jurors it was a 911 call from that son that brought officers to the home in April 2011 -- a call in which James Olsen admitted to ending his mother's life before failing at taking his own.

The call was played in Nassau County Court in Mineola as the murder trial got underway.

"What's going on, sir?" a police dispatcher asked Olsen.

"Murder-suicide. Unsuccessful," he replied, later saying of his mother: "I strangled her . . . with a tie."

Defense attorney Paul Delle, of Garden City, didn't dispute that Olsen, 59, killed his mother inside their College Place home. Instead, Delle began laying out an insanity defense in his opening statement.

He told jurors that Olsen didn't have the capacity to comprehend his conduct and "didn't have murderous intent."

Delle portrayed Olsen as a loyal son who had previously attempted suicide. Despite suffering from depression and diabetes, he was the live-in caretaker for a bedridden mother with Alzheimer's disease.

The attorney drew attention to a portion of the 911 tape in which the dispatcher asked Olsen why he hurt his mother.

"I'm sick," Olsen answered.

"You're sick, OK. You said you had diabetes. What else is wrong with you?"

"I'm just crazy. I have to be crazy."

But Geier said Olsen's actions the morning of April 21, 2011, are those of a cold-blooded killer. Olsen denied having any psychiatric problems when he spoke to first responders, the prosecutor said.

Geier said Olsen later told police he had taken out a reverse mortgage on his mother's home, putting in a new roof and fixing up the backyard, but also spending some of his mother's money on himself.

Authorities previously have alleged Olsen strangled his mother because he feared she would find out he was spending her money.

The prosecutor said Olsen told police he thought about killing his mother before he went to sleep the night before, even laying out the tie he would use to do it.

But the prosecutor said Ruth Olsen didn't die in her sleep.

"She woke up as he was doing this and said to him, 'You're choking me.' And he pulled tighter," Geier said.

Olsen then used a knife to slit his neck and wrists in a bathtub, calling 911 later after he didn't die, according to Geier.

Geier said Olsen did exactly what he had planned, and knew he was committing a crime.

Olsen faces 25 years to life in prison if found guilty of second-degree murder. The trial resumes Monday.

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