Spousal murder plea: no contest

Accused killer Clinton Pusey was scheduled Thursday for a competency hearing in the July 2005 death of his wife, but instead pleaded no contest to a first-degree murder charge.

The new twist means Pusey will move straight to his sentencing hearing, where his attorney will argue that he is mentally ill and deserves to be placed in a state mental hospital such as the one in Atascadero.

"I think this is going to be easy to show," defense attorney Ralph Torres said in an interview. "He's very ill."

Pusey, 74, is accused of beating Mary Ann Larsen-Pusey to death with a baseball bat and hammer. Police officers found Larsen-Pusey, 67, a retired Fresno Pacific University professor, shortly before 7 a.m. July 14, on the floor in the southeast Fresno home where she lived with Clinton Pusey.

Torres said Pusey changed his plea because he admits the crime. But Torres plans to have Pusey's family, as well as Larsen-Pusey's sister, offer testimony on Pusey's behalf at the sentencing hearing.

Prosecutor Robert Romanacce declined to comment other than to say Pusey faces a sentence of 25 years to life when he is sentenced Oct. 12 by Fresno County Superior Court Judge Rosendo Peña. For sentencing, a no contest plea is treated the same as a guilty plea.

Pusey's son has said his father doesn't remember beating Larsen-Pusey to death. He also has said Pusey's mind began deteriorating five years before the crime.

The changes in Pusey, also a former university professor, began after he survived a near-fatal bout with cancer, his family says.

They said he became paranoid and thought people were trying to poison him and that the house was bugged.

On Thursday, Pusey -- a native of Colombia -- looked frail during a short court appearance. He is in the Fresno County Jail.

He answered questions from Peña in a quiet voice, and there were long periods of silence before he answered a few of the questions.

As part of the no-contest plea, Romanacce said prosecutors would drop two enhancements involving the personal use of a deadly weapon.

"In this case, we have a tragic event," Torres said after the hearing. "The loss of his wife is punishment enough. We need to get [Pusey] to a place where he can live out his life in peace."