Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka, an iconic professional wrestler and member of the WWE Hall of Fame, was charged with third-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter on Tuesday in the 1983 death of his then-girlfriend, Nancy Argentino.
Argentino, who was 23, died of brain injuries “consistent with a moving head striking at a stationary object,” according to an autopsy report obtained in 2013 by The Morning Call.
Snuka, now 72, has told several versions of events over the years, including a claim that Argentino fell by the side of the road when they stopped to use the bathroom. However, the autopsy notes that other injuries on the body, such as “scalp, facial and bodily bruises and abrasions” are “not consistent with a single simple fall.”
The pathologist at the time recommended investigating the case as a homicide.
But Snuka was not charged.
The Morning Call report sparked renewed interest in the case, including the grand jury investigation that led to Tuesday’s charges.
“The weight of the evidence clearly indicates that James Snuka repeatedly assaulted Nancy Argentino on May 10, 1983, and then allowed her to lie in their bed at the George Washington Motor Lodge,” Lehigh County district attorney James Martin said, according to WNEP, the ABC station in Scranton.
The grand jury presentment said that four months before Argentino’s death, Snuka was seen dragging her by the hair at a Howard Johnson Motor Lodge, according to Lehigh Valley Live. Although he faced assault and other charges, he pled guilty to a lesser charge and paid a fine.
Snuka has previously denied having anything to do with Argentino’s death.
“Many terrible things have been written about me hurting Nancy and being responsible for her death, but they are not true,” Snuka wrote in his 2012 autobiography, according to The Associated Press. “This has been very hard on me and very hard on my family. To this day, I get nasty notes and threats. It hurts. I never hit Nancy or threatened her.”
Argentino’s family said the charges are long overdue.
“It’s about time that he pays for what he’s done,” Louise Argentino-Upham, one of Argentino’s sisters, told the New York Daily News. “He just kinda waltzed out of it. He was a big star back then.”
Another of Argentino’s sisters, Lorraine Salome, said she didn’t believe this day would come.
“We thought they were giving us lip service. Even when they brought the grand jury, we didn’t have much hope,” Salome told The Morning Call. “We still thought they were giving us the runaround. But the grand jury really did its job and we’re grateful. The doors of justice were slammed in our face 30 years ago, but better late than never, we have a chance of getting justice.”
The charges against Snuka made front-page news in New York, where the former wrestler had some of his biggest moments in the ring at Madison Square Garden:
Snuka made his debut with the WWE, then known as the WWF, in 1982 and almost immediately shot to stardom with his signature move, the “Superfly Splash.” He would climb to the top turnbuckle, flash the “I love you” sign to the fans and leap onto his opponent for what was usually his finishing move.
Snuka was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 1996.
The organization released a statement on Tuesday, which was cited by PWInsider: “WWE expresses its continued sympathy to the Argentino family for their loss. Ultimately this legal matter will be decided by our judicial system.”
PWInsider reports that Snuka will have a preliminary hearing on Sept. 21.
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