Judge sends Richard Greist backto hospital

WEST CHESTER — The judge overseeing the case of killer Richard Greist has ordered him re-committed to Norristown State Hospital for another year, and made no changes in the off-ground privileges that he now enjoys.

But Judge Edward Griffith also had some harsh words for Greist, who was found not guilty by reason of insanity in 1980 for the death of his wife, Janice, and attacks on his family. Griffith said Greist continues to see his release from Norristown as the primary mission of his work with doctors, rather than to completely engage in the psychiatric therapy that would improve his condition.

“Rather than focus solely on therapy as a means to this end, Mr. Greist appears to believe he can marshal pubic opinion to aid his cause,” Griffith wrote in a footnote to his order recommitting Greist, signed Feb. 28. “Mr. Greist remains committed to his vision that he is the greatest victim of the horrific acts that he perpetrated on May 10, 1978.”

On that date, Greist, in a psychotic rage, stabbed his wife, cut the body of his unborn son from her body and mutilated it, then stabbed one of his two daughters in the eye and killed the family cat at their home in East Coventry. He was captured outside the house by police, his body smeared with the blood of his victims.

There remains a profound disagreement among psychiatrists who have interviewed and treated Greist about his current mental condition, and whether he has regained enough of a hold on his emotional and psychological status to begin the process of an eventual release from the hospital into the community.


Doctors hired by Greist’s attorney said he has made progress and that there are no serious obstacles with his eventual release to a halfway house or other residential setting, while the prosecution psychiatrist said he still poses a threat to the community.

The hospital, in its formal commitment petition, had asked Griffith to maintain the level of freedom that Greist has had over the past 18 months since his last review, but to allow it to begin planning for his future outside the hospital walls. In a six-hour hearing before Griffith, Greist’s treating psychiatrist at Norristown and his personal psychiatrist said he was ready to begin the move to a community group home.

Griffith denied that request. He said he would keep in place the restrictions and privileges he decreed in an August 2006 order, after Greist’s last annual review.

He is allowed to attend church services at the West Norristown Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, where he is an ordained minster, once a week; to attend sessions with his personal psychiatrist once a week; to have unsupervised 12-hour visits once every three months; and to have supervised outings given a three-day notice to the Chester County District Attorney’s Office and local police.


At the time, Griffith also ordered Greist continue in the “insight-oriented” psychoanalysis that a previous judge had ordered. His psychiatrist, Dr. Ira Brenner, said that in the six months he had been working with Greist, he had made “slow progress” with the therapy.

Griffith expressed satisfaction with Brenner’s work, unlike a previous therapist who the judge said did not take his instructions for work with Greist seriously and who was subsequently dismissed from the case.

But Griffith maintained that the underlying story of Greist’s attitude toward himself and his situation has not changed.

“Mr. Greist lacks empathy for those he has hurt. (He) continues to engage in manipulative behavior with his caregivers. Mr. Greist … continues to blame others, particularly women, for his plight, fails to take responsibility for the consequences of his own choices and actions, and fails to recognize any impact his behaviors have had on others,” the judge wrote.

In addition to keeping in place the other restrictions on Greist, Griffith forbade him from having any contact with his daughters or their families.


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