Death penalty off table in Musso case

Advocate Staff Photo by MARK SALTZ -- In this July 2009 file photo BRPD Detectives Brett Magee, left, and Brian Watson, right, escort Dustin Musso, center, to an awaiting vehicle for transport. Musso was extradited from Alabama for the murder of his grandfather. Show caption
Advocate Staff Photo by MARK SALTZ -- In this July 2009 file photo BRPD Detectives Brett Magee, left, and Brian Watson, right, escort Dustin Musso, center, to an awaiting vehicle for transport. Musso was extradited from Alabama for the murder of his grandfather.

A Baton Rouge man accused of killing his 76-year-old grandfather nearly four years ago, setting the elder man’s Glenda Drive home on fire and stealing his car will not face the death penalty when he stands trial Dec. 2, a prosecutor said Tuesday.

East Baton Rouge Parish First Assistant District Attorney Prem Burns said she discussed with the victim’s family taking the death penalty off the table in order to try Dustin Musso, 32, this year in the May 2009 slaying of Peter Musso.

Burns also said potential mitigating circumstances were taken into consideration.

“We have given notice that the case will be tried as a first-degree murder with a life sentence,” said Burns, who recently took over prosecution of the case.

A sanity hearing is scheduled in the case March 12 to determine if Musso is competent to proceed.

State District Judge Mike Erwin ruled in the fall of 2010 that Musso was competent to stand trial. Last summer, Erwin appointed two more psychiatrists to re-examine Musso after one of his court-appointed attorneys, Lance Unglesby, told the judge he had “new and expanded” medical information to provide to the court.

Musso wore a mask during an October 2010 hearing to prevent him from spitting. He has not worn such a mask in court since then.

Musso also is charged with attempted second-degree battery and two counts of battery on an officer stemming from a Feb. 10, 2012, incident at Parish Prison in which sheriff’s officials say Musso cut another inmate’s throat with a razor. Musso spit on two detectives when they tried to question him about the cutting, sheriff’s officials said.

Peter Musso’s body was discovered May 5, 2009, by firefighters while they put out a fire at his home. Police have said investigators believe the fire was set to cover up his death. Although he died of smoke inhalation, an autopsy showed Musso suffered trauma to his head, police stated.

Dustin Musso was sentenced to four years in prison in 1999 for stealing his grandmother’s car from the same Glenda Drive home, court records show.

Musso’s attorneys have said previously that he was in nearly two dozen foster homes starting at the age of 3 and has had a “troubled” and “tortured” life.