Sylvia Seegrist: Guilty But Insane
Seegrist appeared for about 10 minutes before District Justice Joseph L. DiPietro in Springfield Township on two counts of murder, attempted murder, aggravated assault, possession of an instrument of crime, and carrying a gun without a license. She was being held in jail without bail until she could get a preliminary hearing. No one yet realized that this would be no simple case. Not only would her competency and sanity be questioned, but her case was about to inspire new legislation regarding the mentally ill.
Among her first words to the judge were "F-- you, I hope you starve, motherf--. I don't like that feeling, but that's the way it is."
The judge asked her age so she told him she was 25. She then added that she did not expect to live beyond that. Asked her phone number, she rattled off a long string of random numbers in a voice charged with anger. She also lashed out with the statement that she wished she had never been born, and told the court that the reason for her rampage was trouble with her parents.
"My parents beat me, of course," she told the court. "The police never handled my parents."
By this time, no one knew quite what to think of her responses, although her mother had already given an interview to reporters to let them know that Sylvia had been diagnosed with schizophrenia at the age of 15 and had been committed to psychiatric hospitals twelve separate times over the past ten years. She had noticed that Sylvia had been acting psychotic in recent days, an indication that she may have gone off her medication. On the morning of the rampage, Ruth Seegrist had asked her daughter to get recommitted, but Sylvia had resisted, saying she would rather go to prison than back to the hospital.
Told by psychiatrists that involuntary commitment was impossible without a clearly violent incident, Ruth Seegrist had given up on that idea.
She herself had experienced some of Sylvia's violence. A year earlier, Sylvia had tried to choke her outside an automobile license agency and the police had intervened. Sylvia had been committed for three weeks, but could not be held longer, despite a psychiatric report that offered a poor prognosis.
There had been other violent episodes as well, yet psychiatrists had repeatedly let her out of the hospital to live on her own. They had to, by state law. She lived alone because no one could stand to live with her, and she had been evicted from at least one apartment for her aggressive behavior. (Former roommates reported that living conditions were a nightmare, and some of them were afraid of her.)
In Ruth Seegrist's opinion, Sylvia had lost touch with reality and could not comprehend the simplest inquiries. She was obsessed with "negative energy," a phenomenon that she apparently could not explain to anyone who asked. Her thinking was entirely disorganized.
That was clear throughout the brief arraignment.
Lane and Gregg quote Sylvia as saying, "Hurry up, man. You know I'm guilty. Just kill me on the spot." She admitted that she had "done something terrible, but then added, "So what? I signed up with the communists; men are always ready to go to war."
Kelleher says that, as the judge read the charges, she looked around, paying no attention to him. Finally she said, "Do you have a black box? That is my testimony."
Her preliminary hearing was set for November 7, a week later.