Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka was plenty theatrical inside the ring. A psychiatrist says the professional wrestler might be faking it in real life, too.
Dr. John O'Brien testified for the prosecution Wednesday at a mental competency hearing for Snuka, who is fighting to avoid trial on murder and involuntary manslaughter charges in the 1983 death of his girlfriend Nancy Argentino.
Snuka could be feigning or exaggerating symptoms, making it appear as if he's suffering the effects of dementia brought on by repeated blows to the head, O'Brien suggested.
He's able to "turn it on, present himself in a way that's not consistent with how he functions," said the psychiatrist, who reviewed video of Snuka's more recent public appearances, examined him in February, and watched him in court Friday and again Wednesday.
The defense contends Snuka, who turned 73 on Wednesday, is mentally unfit, partly because of the head trauma he suffered over a long career in the ring. A psychologist hired by the defense and Snuka's personal doctors have all pronounced him incompetent to stand trial.
But O'Brien said there's little evidence in Snuka's medical records showing repeated concussions or other brain injuries. References to Snuka's severe cognitive impairment only began showing up after Snuka learned that prosecutors in Lehigh County had re-opened the investigation into Argentino's death, he said.
Snuka's brain scans do not reflect "anything other than normal aging," O'Brien said.
The competency hearing was adjourned until Friday.
Snuka has pleaded not guilty and is free on bail.
The wrestler, a Fiji native who lives in New Jersey, had been at a World Wrestling Federation taping at the Allentown Fairgrounds in May 1983, and told police shortly after Argentino's death that he had returned to their Whitehall Township hotel room to find her unresponsive in bed. She was pronounced dead at a hospital several hours later.
An autopsy determined she died of traumatic brain injuries and had more than three dozen cuts and bruises, and it concluded her injuries were consistent with being hit with a stationary object. But the probe went cold, and Snuka continued his high-profile pro wrestling career.
Prosecutors reopened the investigation after a 2013 report in The Morning Call newspaper raised questions about the case. He was charged in September.
His attorney has called Argentino's death an "unfortunate accident."
O'Brien said that when he met with Snuka in February, the wrestler was initially vague and evasive about Argentino and appeared not to understand the legal proceedings against him.
But O'Brien said Snuka opened up when he began questioning him in a deliberately aggressive manner, acknowledging the case was about "the girl I used to be with" and contending "she fell and hit her head."
Snuka was known for diving from the ropes in a career that has spanned several decades, including appearances as recently as last year. He was inducted into the World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Fame in 1996.