US fugitive accused of faking his death to avoid rape charges appears in Utah court

Jan 16, 2024, 5:55 PM

In this file photo Nicholas Rossi leaves Edinburgh Sheriff and Justice of the Peace Court in Edinbu...

In this file photo Nicholas Rossi leaves Edinburgh Sheriff and Justice of the Peace Court in Edinburgh, Scotland, on July 12, 2023. The U.S. fugitive accused of faking his death to avoid rape charges in Utah made an initial court appearance in Salt Lake City, Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2023, and he denied he was Rossi, saying his name was Arthur Knight Brown. He did not enter a plea on the rape charge. (Andrew Milligan/PA via AP)

(Andrew Milligan/PA via AP)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A man accused of faking his death and fleeing the U.S. to avoid rape charges in Utah denied at a court appearance Tuesday that he is the suspect and, in an apparent British accent, called allegations that he wasn’t giving his true name “complete hearsay.”

Nicholas Rossi, whose legal name is Nicholas Alahverdian, is charged with the rape of a 21-year-old woman in Orem, Utah in 2008, prosecutors said. He wasn’t identified as a suspect until about a decade later due to a backlog of DNA test kits at the Utah State Crime Lab.

Rossi, 36, was extradited from Scotland earlier this month. He identified himself Tuesday as Arthur Knight Brown and gave a birthdate in British English — listing the day first, followed by the month and year — that is different from Rossi’s, KSTU-TV reported.

He appeared from jail via video wearing an oxygen mask and did not enter a plea at the initial court appearance. He was difficult to understand at times and had to lift up the mask to be heard.

Deputy Salt Lake County attorney Tamara Basuez said Rossi has not admitted his name or birthdate since he returned to Utah.

“Objection, my lady, that is complete hearsay,” Rossi told the judge.

Rossi is jailed without the possibility of posting bail in the Orem case. The judge set a detention hearing for Jan. 26.

The judge said a lawyer would be appointed for Rossi. He said he has one, but that the attorney did not receive notice of Tuesday’s hearing.

Rossi, who grew up in foster homes in Rhode Island, made a name for himself there as a vocal critic of the state’s Department of Children, Youth and Families.

Four years ago, he told media in Rhode Island that he had late-stage non-Hodgkin lymphoma and had weeks to live. An obituary published online claimed he died Feb. 29, 2020.

He used at least 10 different aliases over the years, prosecutors said.

Authorities said his run from the law ended when he was arrested in December 2021 after being recognized by someone at a Glasgow, Scotland, hospital while he was being treated for COVID-19. He insisted he was an Irish orphan named Arthur Knight and had never set foot on American soil.

The man had said he was framed by authorities who took his fingerprints while he was in a coma so they could connect him to Rossi. He has repeatedly appeared in court in a wheelchair, using an oxygen mask and speaking with the apparent British accent.

After a protracted court battle, Judge Norman McFadyen of Edinburgh Sheriff Court ruled in August that the extradition could move forward. The judge called Rossi “as dishonest and deceitful as he is evasive and manipulative.”

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US fugitive accused of faking his death to avoid rape charges appears in Utah court