BELLEFONTE — Aarao Cornelio Jr.’s story started in the HUB-Robeson Center on an April 2013 morning.
University police found him sleeping in a chair on the first floor. An officer woke him. He asked if someone turned him in. He was cooperative, and the encounter ended. Twenty minutes later, police received a call. Cornelio was making threatening comments, lying in a chair, eyes closed. He was saying things like “I will take my penis out and hit you, babe” and “I want to shoot people. Who was the snitch?”
He left before police arrived. Around 1:20 p.m., he was spotted at the Centre Area Transportation Authority bus stop at College Avenue and Hiester Street, walking into traffic. At 1:55 p.m., police were dispatched to Hiester, where Cornelio was walking in his boxer shorts, hitting vehicles with a stick. He approached a police cruiser and told an officer, “Thank you for returning my camera last week.”
It was the kind of day that leads to a jail cell and a court appearance. For Cornelio, it also led to treatment.
On Tuesday, attorney Andrew Shubin was in Centre County Court with a petition for Cornelio’s acquittal, based on the idea that he was not responsible for his actions on that April day.
Psychiatrist Joseph Silverman testified via telephone, saying that there was no way that Cornelio, charged with terroristic threats and disorderly conduct, was aware of what he was doing.
“On the day he was arrested, his behavior was very bizarre. He was obviously out of control, definitely not in control of himself,” said Silverman.
Shubin credited Assistant Dstrict Attorney Nathan Boob with recognizing that there was more to Cornelio’s case, which helped Shubin and the family arrange for treatment. He spent time at Torrance State Hospital in Derry. It took months to adjust his medications, but manic, schizophrenic behavior has been controlled, and now the 34-year-old is living in a personal care home and looking for a job.
The court’s involvement, however, was key, said Shubin.
“In some ways, the way it played out was horrific,” said Shubin. “But it had a good ending.”
Ideally, he would have preferred to see it go through a mental health court rather than a criminal proceeding.
“But we don’t have a mental health track,” said Centre County Judge Pamela A. Ruest.
“He has enough on his plate. He doesn’t need more of a criminal record,” Shubin told the judge.
Ruest said she will read the psychologist’s report and make a ruling before the pretrial conference scheduled on the case for July 17.
“We really need a mental health court in Centre County,” Ruest said.