Rosato trial off to bizarre, but slow, start

Mental condition could be factor in comedian's harassment case


Wed, August 8, 2007


KINGSTON — A one-time fixture of Canadian television who believes his loved ones have been replaced by imposters entered an Ontario courtroom in shackles and handcuffs Tuesday to face a charge of criminal harassment.

Tony Rosato, 53, best known for brief comedic turns on “SCTV” and “Saturday Night Live,” complained about the two years he has already spent behind bars as he was ushered into a courtroom in Kingston.

“I’m very concerned about the time I spent here without bail,” Rosato said, a folder adorned with the Star of David tucked under one arm. “I felt that bail should have been given to me a long time ago, and I felt my human rights were being violated.”

Daniel Brodsky, Rosato’s lawyer, said his client was arrested after repeatedly complaining to police that his wife and daughter had vanished and been replaced by substitutes.

The bizarre delusion is a central symptom of a mental condition known as Capgras’s syndrome, with which Brodsky says Rosato has been diagnosed.

The trial, which was supposed to get underway in earnest Tuesday, took an early dramatic turn when Brodsky argued that the proceedings should be taking place in Toronto, where the alleged harassment took place.

As Brodsky spoke with Superior Court Justice Gordon Thomson, Rosato silently raised his right arm as a student would in a classroom, his index and middle fingers slightly hooked, and tried to get his lawyer’s attention.

Brodsky went over to the prisoner’s box where the two had a discussion within earshot of several reporters sitting in the front row before Thomson abruptly put an end to the consultation.

“We’re not going to have chit-chat with the press sitting three feet away,” Thomson said.

“I was just trying to understand the charges, Your Honour,” Rosato replied.

Much of the first day of the trial was characterized by Thomson’s evident frustration at several procedural delays. He repeated urged both Brodsky and assistant Crown attorney Priscilla Christie to “move along” as they each raised a number of procedural issues.

The day was cut short shortly after lunch when Brodsky said Christie had failed to provide him with a number of transcripts from earlier court appearances, without which he claimed he could not properly defend his client.

Thomson called the absent transcripts an “inordinate delay,” and demanded to have them first thing Wednesday.

Rosato, born in Naples, Italy, joined “SCTV” in its final season in 1980, his best-known character a tippling TV chef named Marcello Sebastiano. He appeared on “Saturday Night Live” for one season in 1981, then in 1985 began a four-year stint on the popular Canadian police drama “Night Heat.”

Both in court and outside, Brodsky complained that Christie had been stonewalling him in the lead-up to the trial by not replying to his e-mails and voice mail messages.

At one point, a visibly frustrated Thompson urged the lawyers to “open the lines of communication” and chastised them for delaying the proceedings.

“I’ve got some news for you,” he said. “This trial is going to go ahead, and it’s going to go ahead today.”

Throughout the apparent chaos of the trial’s first day, Rosato sat calmly in the prisoner’s box, wearing a black suit jacket and pants and a greyish-blue golf shirt.

As police led the actor from the grey-bricked courthouse to a waiting cruiser, he took pains to point out that his estranged wife, Leah, wasn’t responsible for the charge against him.

“My wife and I never had any kind of disagreement whatsoever our entire lives,” said Rosato, who’s being held at the Quinte Detention Centre in nearby Napanee. “I love my wife so very, very much, and I haven’t seen her and I’m worried sick about her.”