Chester County judge orders infamous Pa. killer Greist to remain under state psychiatric care 32 years after found insane

By Jon Campisi | May 7, 2012

A Chester County judge has ordered Richard Greist, who perpetuated one of the more infamous and depraved crimes in state history, to remain confined to a psychiatric facility to continue undergoing mental health evaluation more than three decades after he was committed to state care.

On May 2, Chester County Common Pleas Court Judge Edward Griffith ordered Greist, now 61, recommitted to Norristown State Hospital, according to a report in the Daily Local News of West Chester.

A copy of the seven-page order was not immediately available by Clerk of Courts’ office.

According to the newspaper article, however, Griffith stated that some of his reasons to recommit Greist had to do with the patient’s “manipulative behavior” and “irrational thought processes,” as well as Greist’s refusal to attend his annual review hearings this year.

“We have concluded that clear and convincing evidence supports a reasonable probability that Mr. Greist may harm himself or others if he is not recommitted,” Griffith wrote in his order, according to the Daily Local. “We find that Mr. Greist’s treatment is still hindered by his own failure to recognize his need for treatment.”

Greist committed one of the most heinous crimes in Pennsylvania history when he stabbed his wife, Janice, who was eight months pregnant at the time, to death at their home in East Coventry Township, Chester County back in May 1978.

Greist, in what has been described as a drug-fueled psychotic rage, then cut their unborn child from his deceased wife’s womb and proceeded to mutilate the fetus, according to news archives.

He then slashed the throat of his grandmother with a butcher knife before gouging out the eye of his 5-year-old daughter.

The grandmother and daughter survived the attack, which was blamed on a complete mental breakdown.

Greist was found not guilty by reason of insanity during a non-jury trial, and was ordered committed to Norristown State Hospital in 1980.

Each year, mental health authorities have to appear before a Chester County Common Pleas Court judge and explain whether their patient is mentally fit enough to end his involuntary commitment.

On May 2, according to the Daily Local article, Greist skipped his court hearing, and also, for the first time since his commitment, he refused to be interviewed by a psychiatrist hired by the prosecution, the paper reported.

Griffith, the judge overseeing his case, referred in his order to the pro se motion that Greist had filed last summer at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in which the patient sought to have his mental health proceedings transferred from the Chester County trial court to the federal venue in Philadelphia.

In his Aug. 10, 2011 federal court motion, which was filed on his own behalf, Greist claimed that state prosecutors “unlawfully altered defendant’s commitment status from civil to criminal,” and that they failed to follow applicable U.S. Supreme Court decisions relevant to his case.

In his civil motion, Greist also argued that the lower courts have failed to provide applicable due process protections with respect to his commitment status and that they failed to provide “integration” in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In a one-paragraph order from March 12 of this year, however, U.S. District Judge Joel H. Slomsky denied Greist’s motion to transfer his matter to the federal venue.

Griffith’s order for recommitment mimics orders given by previous judges overseeing the case in prior years.

Relatives of the victims previously urged the courts to confine Greist to state care indefinitely.

“I personally think he should never be released,” Doris Houck, Greist’s mother-in-law, told the Associated Press in a June 1996 article. “He is not a stable person. I don’t think he can make it in the real world. He is where he belongs.”

But others have shared a different sentiment.

Theodore Thompson, one of Greist’s past attorneys, told the Associated Press in that same news story that, “Richard is as normal as any of my neighbors. And he would like the walls of his world to be expanded a little.”

The AP article also described doctors, friends and hospital workers who said that Greist had regained his sanity and had not had a psychotic episode since 1981.

In the article, Greist himself was quoted as saying that “anyone can snap,” but he was convinced he’d recognize the warning signs ahead of time.

“That’s why I feel safe and trust myself,” he was quoted as saying at the time. “I now understand the signs and know the tools available to counter them.

“If I didn’t trust myself, I wouldn’t want myself discharged,” he continued. “I wouldn’t want to take another person’s life. I wouldn’t want to live through that again.”


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