It seems that the sins of the past may have caught up James Wiley Smith, otherwise known as “Superfly” Jimmy Snuka. The 72-year-old legend was recently diagnosed with stomach cancer and now he has a prison sentence hanging over his head. On Tuesday, Snuka was charged with third-degree with murder and involuntary manslaughter for the 1983 death of his girlfriend, Nancy Argentino.
The act in question is known in wrestling circles as the “George Washington Motor Lodge Incident.” Snuka and Argentio were staying at the Whitehall, PA lodge when Argentino died from traumatic brain injuries. Allegedly, Snuka never called for help when the injury occurred and he told police that Argentino slipped and hit her head on the side of the road.
Earlier that year, Snuka was also charged with assaulting Argentio.
Bruises and cuts found all over Argentio’s body, inconsistencies in Snuka’s story (including in his autobiography), and the fact that the coroner who examined the body at the time suspected foul play, caused the case to be left open, even though Snuka was never charged.
Argentino’s parents won a civil case in 1985 where a judge ordered Snuka to pay $500,000. Snuka claimed he didn’t have the means to compensate the amount required and never paid. For years, many have felt that Snuka’s fame is what helped him escape a trial or any jail time.
Things began to change when the case was turned over to the grand jury in January 2014. On Tuesday, September 1, 2015 Snuka turned himself into authorities in Pennsylvania where he was formally charged for the murder of Argentino.
This is where my criminal justice degree comes in handy. According to Pennsylvania state law, murder in the third degree carries a penalty of 10 –20 years in prison while involuntary manslaughter carries a penalty up to five years in prison. The prosecution will need to establish gross negligence, intent to harm and willful disregard on Sunka’s part.
Additional counts could potentially add more prison time, which could total up to 40 years.
For a variety of reasons, these cases can go many different ways. Public perception plays a role, even though the judicial system is designed to disregard outside influences. However, pressure from the Argentino family triggered a chain of investigative events that lead us to where we are now.
If Snuka is found guilty, judicial discretion could play a part in sentencing as opposed to administering a proportionate punishment due to a sense of karmic restitution for “getting it wrong the first time.”
I remember watching a shoot interview with Snuka where, instead of giving honest answers about the behind the scenes world of wrestling, he went into character mode and talked about his in-ring exploits as if they were real. When asked about Nancy Argentino, he feigned confusion as if he had no knowledge of the subject until the interviewer gave up and moved on to another topic.
This was the first time I suspected that something didn’t add up.
Why would Snuka agree to do a tell-all interview where he approved all of the questions beforehand, only to lie about everything? The jump from kayfabe to murder is extreme, but it’s another example of the many times he’s changed his story.
2015 has been cursed for big name wrestlers from the past. Roddy Piper and Dusty Rhodes passed away while Hulk Hogan’s racist remarks have torpedoed his reputation. Now, Jimmy Snuka might have “convicted murderer” added to his résumé.
Calling to a satirical frame of reference, Hogan and Snuka’s fall from grace reminds me of the 2002 black comedy, Death to Smoochy. Robin Williams’ Rainbow Randolph is children’s television host who is disgraced by an FBI sting and is revealed to be the complete opposite of his squeaky clean on-screen persona.