GRAND MARAIS, MINN. – A player on the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” U.S. Olympic gold-medal hockey team has been found incompetent to stand trial in a criminal case involving charges that he beat a friend with a metal pole.
The case against Mark Pavelich, 61, of Lutsen, Minn., was suspended Monday as Cook County authorities petitioned to have him civilly committed to treatment.
In a hearing earlier in the day, District Judge Michael Cuzzo told Pavelich that a psychologist’s report “indicates you need some assistance to fully understand” the criminal proceedings.
Pavelich was booked into the Cook County jail on Aug. 15. His friend James T. Miller, 63, told authorities he was struck with a 3- to 4-foot-long metal pole by Pavelich after returning from a day of fishing to the hockey star’s home, down a dirt road near Deer Yard Lake. Pavelich had accused Miller of “spiking his beer,” the criminal complaint read.
Miller, Pavelich’s neighbor for 20 years, suffered cracked ribs, a bruised kidney and a fracture to one of his vertebrae, the charges detailed. The beating also left bruises on his arms and legs and a large mark across his back.
Pavelich was charged with second- and third-degree assault, possession of an illegal shotgun and possessing a gun with a missing serial number.
Wearing a black-and-white striped jail suit, his hands cuffed, Pavelich sat quietly Monday during the hearing in the courtroom with windows overlooking Lake Superior.
Prosecutors asked to raise his bail from $250,000 to $5 million, citing a “significant risk to public safety,” based on the psychologist’s report.
Defense attorney Christopher Stocke disagreed and argued that Pavelich would not have the means to bail himself out at the lower bail level.
Cuzzo set bail at $500,000.
In a written order, the judge concluded Pavelich is “incapable of participating in the defense due to mental illness or deficiency.” The order also states that proceedings against Pavelich will be dismissed in three years unless prosecutors give the court notice that they intend to prosecute when he regains competency.
The psychologist’s report found that Pavelich is unable to demonstrate a rational, reasonable degree of understanding of basic legal proceedings and requires “intensive psychiatric treatment with neuroleptic medications,” according to the judge’s order.
The psychologist’s opinion was that Pavelich would present a “direct threat of harm and danger to others” if released because he would not voluntarily follow treatment recommendations.
Pavelich’s sister, brother, mother and other family and friends were in the courtroom Monday to offer their support.
His sister, Jean Gevik, has said his family is convinced that “all the concussions and the blows he had” in the National Hockey League left Pavelich suffering from CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease that has been linked to erratic behavior and deaths among hockey and football players and others in sports that inflict trauma to the head.
Sitting in the courtroom awaiting Monday’s hearing, Gevik called the case “heartbreaking.”
“He’s been an amazing brother. Fun. Loving,” she said. “This has been a total change.”
Gevik and other family members said they started seeing changes in Pavelich a few years ago. They have been trying for some time to get help for him, family members said, but he has refused, believing there is nothing wrong.
Gevik has said that Herb Brooks, Team USA’s coach at the 1980 Olympic Games in Lake Placid, N.Y., and later in the NHL with the New York Rangers, once recalled that Pavelich had one especially severe head injury that could have ended his life.
“All the research is out there about CTE,” she said earlier. “This should not be a surprise here.”
The NHL has faced criticism for its handling of head injuries despite a long list of rules, studies and league-player committees focused on enhancing player safety. The league reached a court settlement last year with hundreds of retired players who claimed harm from head injuries while playing, but the NHL admitted no fault or wrongdoing.
Each player who opts in would receive $22,000 and could be eligible for up to $75,000 in medical treatment. Pavelich did not make a claim, his sister has said.
Pavelich, a center who starred for Eveleth High School and the University of Minnesota Duluth, assisted on Mike Eruzione’s winning goal in a stunning upset of the Soviet Union in the 1980 Olympic hockey tournament semifinals, a triumph that has long been referred to as the “Miracle on Ice.” Team USA went on to defeat Finland in the gold medal game, and its remarkable story was turned into the hit movie “Miracle” in 2004.
Pavelich played five seasons with the Rangers. He joined the Minnesota North Stars in 1986-87, but only for 12 games. After a brief pro stint in Italy, he was out of the game before a career-ending two-game stint with the San Jose Sharks in 1991-92.
Away from the game, Pavelich has been a virtual recluse. In 2012, his 44-year-old wife, Kara, died in an accidental fall from a second-story balcony at their home. Two years later, he sold his gold medal for $262,900 in an auction, explaining he wanted to provide financial security for his adult daughter.