Threatening letter dooms bid for more freedom

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Chester County judge rules that killer’s language ‘raises concerns’

By Kathleen Brady SheaManaging Editor, The Times

IMG_1233A threatening letter written recently by a former county resident acquitted of heinous crimes in 1980 by reason of insanity doomed his request for increased privileges at his annual commitment hearing.

After reviewing testimony in the hearing for Richard Greist, Chester County Court Judge Edward Griffith has declined to expand Greist’s freedoms, which had been the recommendation of doctors at Norristown State Hospital, where Greist has spent most of the past 35 years. The judge cited the letter, which was written to a psychiatrist who has been evaluating Greist for the past decade.

In 1978, during an apparent psychotic rampage, Greist fatally stabbed his pregnant wife at their East Coventry home, ripping his unborn son from her womb with a screwdriver and mutilating the fetus. He also gouged his 6-year-old daughter’s eye, slashed his grandmother’s throat, and butchered the family cat. Because a judge ruled that Greist could not be held responsible for his crimes, he can never be incarcerated for them; however, the court holds an annual commitment hearing to review his record and hear recommendations for his future treatment.

This year, the hospital sought to increase Greist’s 12-hour off-grounds unsupervised passes from quarterly to monthly, add a 24-hour unsupervised pass each quarter, and offer additional off-grounds privileges with supervision at the discretion of his treatment team, according to testimony.

Dr. Barbara Ziv, who has been interviewing Greist annually for the District Attorney’s Office, testified that earlier this month she received a letter from Greist at the beginning of their interview, which had been rescheduled after Greist refused to participate the first time.

In the letter, Greist told Ziv that it is “your obligation as a reviewer to recommend to the court, my discharge.” He also quoted a passage from Deuteronomy 19:15-21, which warns of false testimony and includes “Life will be for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.”

In his order, the judge wrote that he agreed with Ziv’s assessment that the letter was threatening and reflected poorly on Greist’s judgment. “Whereas last year we were encouraged by Mr. Greist’s progress, this letter once again raises concerns,” Griffith wrote.

The judge concluded that Greist “remains severely mentally disabled and in need of treatment.” He said Greist, who “is still in need of the therapeutic structure that hospitalization provides,” would continue his treatment at Norristown State Hospital until his 2015 review.

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