Months after he was discharged from Norristown State Hospital, where he had been confined for decades after killing his wife in a bloody, psychotic rampage in 1978, the legal case against Richard Greist came to an end in 2023 with the stroke of a judge’s pen.
In July, Common Pleas Court Judge William P. Mahon signed an order discontinuing the court’s oversight of his mental health treatment after attorneys and psychiatrists said he no longer fit the constraints of the state’s protocol for those suffering from serious psychological disabilities but found not guilty by reason of insanity of crimes they had been charged with.
“It is incumbent on me to discharge Mr. Greist from any further involuntary treatment, as there is no basis for me to decide anything other,” Mahon — one of a multitude of county judges who had overseen his treatment and confinement at the state hospital — said at the end of a brief hearing involving his prior order that Greist had to continue treatment with his longtime therapist, but could do so on an outpatient basis.
Mahon said that his decision was prompted in large by the county’s Department of Mental Health/Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities filing of a petition saying that it was no longer seeking Greist’s treatment for a serious mental health condition. Absent the department’s request for continued treatment, the court was powerless under state law to order it.
“They have no intention of filing for an extension (of his treatment),” said the department’s solicitor, attorney Bruce Laverty. “There is nothing to indicate any reason for the extension.”
Greist had been committed to Norristown State Hospital for more than forty years and had been treated there for his mental illness after he was found not guilty by reason of insanity for the death of his then-wife, Janice Greist, in May 1978, the disembowelment of her body and removal of their unborn child from her womb, the mutilation of her and the boy, and the stabbing of his daughter and grandmother.
Greist, 72, attended the hearing with his wife, Frances Greist, but did not address the court.
Afterward, Greist expressed gratitude for Mahon’s action.
“I want to thank the court, and the hospital for my wellness,” he said leaving the courtroom with his attorney, Marita Hutchinson. “I want to thank almighty God for my wellness, and my wife for her continuing support.”
“It’s a blessed day,” echoed Frances Greist. “We finally got him home.”
In January, Mahon had ordered that Greist and his personal psychiatrist, Dr. Ira Brenner, should devote 45 minutes each week to his psychiatric treatment, divided into 15-minute sessions. It could be done via video or audio link. Should Brenner notice any psychotic regression or change in Greist’s mental status or if Greist fails to continue treatment, the doctor must notify the court, the Chester County District Attorney’s Office and Greist’s attorneys.
July’s action discontinued that order.
Brenner had told Mahon that he had been adapting to life outside the hospital grounds where he had lived since 1980 quite well and that any stress that he had confronted since being released — including being involved in a traffic accident with an angry motorist — had not triggered any decompensation that would lead to a return of his psychosis.
Mahon, in his winter ruling, quoted Brenner as opining that Greist’s commitment to Norristown “is one of the most unusual” in Norristown history. The judge and the doctor noted that the original diagnosis of Greist as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia had been abandoned over the years. In his latest review, the hospital psychiatrist said Greist suffered from a “brief psychotic episode” that had been “resolved.” He now suffers from anti-social behavior that is unspecified.
“I’ve never seen any evidence of schizophrenia,” said Brenner. “They always try to find something wrong with him because he did something wrong.”
District Attorney Chief of Staff Andrea Cardamone, who last year opposed Greist’s discharge from Norristown, said her office still maintained its concern about his possible regression, but would not fight his discharge from involuntary treatment.
“We think someone needs to have eyes on him, and someone needs to be reporting to the court,” she said.
He has never had any problems or complaints about his behavior off-grounds, even as the restrictions of his commitment to Norristown eased.
The decision to discharge Greist from Norristown was made in August 2022 by the late Judge Edward Griffith. He was allowed to leave the hospital and live with his wife in Norristown, where he continues to reside.
To contact staff writer Michael P. Rellahan, call 610-696-1544.