Richard Tyma hearing

Assistant Public Defender Benjamin Smith (from left) and murder defendant Richard L. Tyma Sr. listens to the prosecution’s argument during a bail hearing Nov. 13 in Cattaraugus County Court. Smith said Friday his client killed his son in self-defense.

LITTLE VALLEY — The defense attorney for an elderly South Dayton man charged with murdering his son claims his client did so in self-defense after the son threatened to inject him with heroin.

Cattaraugus County Assistant Public Defender Ben Smith on Friday described the defense’s view of the night 73-year-old Richard L. Tyma Sr. shot and killed his 46-year-old son inside their South Dayton home.

According to Smith, Tyma called the police about his son for domestic disturbances two times around the night of Nov. 2, 2018, and early morning of Nov. 3, causing Cattaraugus County Sheriff’s Office deputies to twice respond and leave the Tymas’ 206 Mill St. residence.

Smith said that it’s his understanding that after deputies left for the second time, Tyma’s son, Daniel Tyma, ripped the home’s phone cord out of the wall and threatened to “jab” his father with a heroin needle.

“(Tyma) was in his bedroom kind of up against the wall. From my view of the facts, it doesn’t look like my guy had much of a choice in this matter,” Smith said. “I think he would have liked to have called the cops a third time, but with the phone being ripped out, I don’t think he was given that option.”

Tyma remains incarcerated in Cattaraugus County Jail on $50,000 bail. He pleaded not guilty Jan. 2 to a Cattaraugus County grand jury indictment charging him with two counts of second-degree murder, class A-1 felonies, and first-degree manslaughter, a class B felony.

Cattaraugus County District Attorney Lori Rieman said Tyma shot his son in the head with a legally possessed rifle due to an “argument,” and that the action warrants a murder charge.

Under New York state penal law, a person is typically not justified in using deadly physical force unless the person “reasonably believes” that another person is using or about to use deadly physical force against him or another person.

Smith said the alleged threat of heroin injection would cause any “reasonable person” to believe they’re going to die, especially someone with his client’s “terrible health.” Tyma used a wheelchair and breathed with the help of an oxygen tank during his Nov. 13 bail hearing in Cattaraugus County Court.

“Heroin kills people. … We hear about overdoses constantly,” Smith said. “Someone says they’re going to stick you with a heroin needle, that to me sounds like a threat.”

Smith said he’s not yet sure whether deputies, who responded to the home for a third time around 3 a.m. Nov. 3 after being alerted to the shooting, found any heroin at the crime scene.

He said he’s filed a discovery motion to learn whether deputies recovered the illegal opioid, and see any other evidence the prosecution has gathered. He noted prosecutors “still have a bunch of time before they have to turn that over to us,” and that any possible trial wouldn’t be until the summer at the earliest.

Smith described Tyma as a “decorated” Vietnam War veteran with no prior criminal convictions.

He said his client had a “bit of a strained relationship” with his son, who had been living in his father’s Mill Street home “on and off for months” but also had a property down the street. Cattaraugus County property records show Daniel Tyma owned 8514 White Road, located just a mile down the road from his father’s 206 Mill St. address.

Smith was unsure whether Daniel Tyma was responsible for the care of his father,

but noted his client is “actually doing better” since being incarcerated, as he’s “receiving better care in the jail” than he was at home.

When asked about the role of Tyma’s health in the case, Rieman said Tyma was “well enough to pull the trigger, which makes him a dangerous person.” She noted her office is willing to bring the case to trial if need be.

Asked how his client feels about causing the death of his own son, Smith said Tyma “obviously ... doesn’t feel great about it.”

“Like he told police: ‘You think I wanted this to happen?’” Smith said. “That’s what he told the police: ‘I didn’t want this to happen. He pretty much gave me no choice.’”

(Contact reporter Tom Dinki at Follow him on Twitter, @tomdinki)