Metro

Man charged in nursing home slaying arraigned

Walter Rice during his bedside arraignment in Morton Hospital.
Barry Chin/Globe Staff
Walter Rice during his bedside arraignment in Morton Hospital.

TAUNTON — A man charged with killing his roommate in the dementia unit at a Randolph nursing home last month was arraigned Friday in the intensive care unit at Morton Hospital because he was too ill to appear in court.

Fifty-eight-year-old Walter Rice Jr. was lying in bed with his eyes closed and never spoke as a court clerk entered not guilty pleas on his behalf to charges of murder and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon for the Sept. 5 attack on 86-year-old James Schappell.

Rice, who suffers from a brain injury and dementia and has no prior criminal record, is accused of beating Schappell over the head with a heavy, ceramic flower pot that was used as a trash can in the room they shared at CareOne in Randolph. He died the following day of severe head trauma.

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Norfolk Assistant District Attorney Craig Kowalski said the two residents were in a locked unit at the nursing home for residents suffering from dementia and other brain-related issues.

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Schappell was a retired New Jersey businessman and Army veteran of the Korean War, according to his obituary, which said he had three daughters, nine grandchildren, and 11 great-grandchildren.

Attorney James Murphy, who stood beside his client, told a judge that documents from Bridgewater State Hospital indicated that Rice had been found competent to stand trial, following a mental health evaluation. But he said the documents appeared contradictory, because they also included a doctor’s finding that Rice is not now and never will have “a rational or sufficient understanding of the court proceedings in this case.”

“Your honor, as you can see from your own observations, my client is not awake” or communicating, Murphy said.

But District Judge Michael Brennan said Rice was awake and talking when the judge, prosecutor, and defense lawyer first entered his room, then closed his eyes as soon as a small group that included several members of the media was ushered inside to view the public proceeding.

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The judge rejected a request by the defense to set bail at $50,000 and ordered Rice held without bail.

Shelley Murphy can be reached at shmurphy@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shelleymurph.