Prosecutor describes lengthy history of menacing behavior
By Kathleen Brady Shea, Managing Editor, The Times
A litigious, 36-year-old area resident who gained national attention recently as the imposter uncle of Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook Elementary shooter, will remain behind bars for at least 2 ½ years.
Jonathan Lee Riches of West Goshen Township appeared before Chester County Court Judge Jacqueline C. Cody on Thursday morning, accused of violating his probation by traveling to Newtown, Ct., in December without permission. He told the judge he suffered from mental illness and does not always follow his prescribed regimen.
“I know that I have to take my medications,” he said. “I need treatment, your honor.” He acknowledged “feeling better” since his incarceration, a contradiction to a letter one of his many followers posted on Facebook in which Riches allegedly complained that Chester County Prison was starving him and keeping him in isolation, accusations the prison emphatically denied.
Assistant District Attorney Andrea Cardamone told the judge that the offense marked Riches’ fourth probation violation since 2000, a history of disturbing infractions that was interrupted while Riches spent 10 years in federal prison for duping AOL customers into giving him personal information that he used to make fraudulent purchases. He was paroled in April.
In addition to making harassing, obscene phone calls, Riches has filed forged documents claiming he was working for an Illinois law firm, posted personal data, including a Social Security number, of his probation officer online, and demonstrated “a kinship with recent mass murderers,” Cardamone said, recommending a one- to five-year state prison term.
Defense attorney Robert J. Donatoni acknowledged that his client needed to be punished; however, he urged an eight- to 12-month county sentence. He pointed out that Riches’ behavior also prompted a federal detainer. “The federal government is waiting to see what happens here,” Donatoni said, suggesting that the federal system’s medical facilities are better equipped to meet Riches’ needs.
“He’s mentally ill,” Donatoni said. “I don’t say that as an excuse; I say it as a statement of fact.”
Donatoni said Riches “was delusional enough to file record numbers of lawsuits” from federal prison, citing a suit against Hurricane Katrina as an example of his client’s tenuous grip on reality. The suits, many of which garnered headlines, were so frequent and frivolous that a federal injunction was filed and Riches ended up in solitary confinement, Donatoni said.
Before issuing her decision, Cody watched a brief portion of the YouTube video that landed Riches back in prison before indicating that she had seen enough. In the video, Riches talks about being a “truth-seeker” who will determine how Lanza was “mind-controlled” to unload his weapons on schoolchildren.
“I know mental illness is a difficult thing to live with,” said Cody. But she said “things have been getting worse and worse … to the point of causing serious emotional harm to a lot of people.”
Riches’ parents and a family friend attended the hearing. Also in the courtroom was West Goshen Township Det. David Maurer, one of the officers who has fielded concerns from people across the country about some of Riches’ postings. Police said they have been monitoring Riches since his release in April; in fact, that vigilance generated Thursday’s hearing.
While watching the December video in which Riches describes approaching the Connecticut residence of Adam Lanza, officers saw Riches’ face briefly when he dropped the video camera. Because Riches had not notified his probation officer of the trip, he was cited for the violation.
After the hearing, Donatoni said he is concerned that Riches will not get the help he needs in state prison. He said he expected federal authorities to impose an additional penalty, although no hearing has been scheduled. He said that term could be consecutive to the Chester County sentence. “A strictly penal sentence will not serve anyone; he’s seriously mentally ill,” said Donatoni. “He needs to be in a place where he can get treatment so he doesn’t get worse.”
Cardamone said she was pleased with the sentence “in particular because it prioritizes the need to protect the public and the community.” She said both Chester County and the federal authorities have been attempting to address Mr. Riches’ mental health needs for over a decade. “The sentence imposed by the Court today ensures that the community will be protected while these efforts continue,” she said.