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October 7, 2005

Deaf homicide suspect called unfit for trial

From: Pittsburgh Post Gazette, PA - Oct 7, 2005

He's delusional, expert witness says

By Gabrielle Banks, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

A psychiatric expert in a Beaver County double homicide case testified yesterday that the defendant, who is deaf, told her he heard spirit voices from a cassette placed in his head. She said he was not competent to stand trial because he cannot determine what is real and what is not.

"Because he believes in these voices and that needles are being put into him, it impairs his judgment," said Dr. Christine Martone, a forensic psychiatrist experienced in evaluating criminal defendants.

The public defender presented a motion arguing that Thomas Simich Jr. was unable to defend himself in his current mental state.

Judge John D. McBride must decide whether to accept Dr. Martone's recommendation and transfer the defendant from the Beaver County Jail to Mayview State Hospital in South Fayette for up to 90 days, after which he could re-evaluate the 45-year-old Freedom man's mental competency.

Mr. Simich appeared calm and somber as he entered the courtroom in shackles, dressed in orange-and-white striped prison attire. He nodded to several family members seated in the courtroom before taking his seat behind a wall court officials erected behind the defense table so that no one fluent in American Sign Language could see the defense interpreters, a violation of attorney-client confidentiality.

The court provided two additional interpreters and projected a real-time transcription of the hearing onto monitors for Mr. Simich and his parents.

The parents, who also are hearing impaired, witnessed the shooting of their daughter and son-in-law on May 2 at their home. The victims were on vacation, visiting from Florida.

Dr. Martone met with the defendant in July and reviewed his medical and school records. Mr. Simich told her he used cocaine and NoDoz caffeine pills. He said in recent months he had experienced a variety of delusions and hallucinations.

He said he thought the victims, Marilyn and Steven Bergman, belonged to a cocaine cartel and that he was a federal narcotics agent. The voices in his head told him he was being pursued by Nazis and that his blood would be used to cure AIDS. He believed he was a polygamist and that one of his children had been cryogenically frozen at the age of 10. In a former life, he told Dr. Martone, he was the 14th-century Russian prince known as Ivan the Red.

"It is not difficult for an educated person to say falsely that they are experiencing delusions," the psychiatrist said. "What is difficult is to imitate the delusions" as Mr. Simich did, veering off on tangents and interjecting comments at random, she said.

She attributed his behavior to paranoid schizophrenia. She did not believe Mr. Simich, who had above-average grades in school, was psychologically impaired as a result of brain damage he may have suffered in two car accidents and a 1983 dustup with California police officers.

It is possible the father of two began having psychotic episodes prior to the homicides he is charged with.

About three years ago, Mr. Simich's 61-year-old stepbrother Warren Bell received a threatening message from the defendant's TTY machine, according to Mr. Bell's wife, Liz. The Bells were on good terms with him up until that day.

Mr. Simich's cousin and regular childhood playmate, Richard Hudock, said he noticed "Tommy" was slipping a few months before the May 2 shooting and decided it probably was not a good idea to have him around his children.

"He was talking to somebody who wasn't there," Mr. Hudock, 39, said. "That guy you see there," he added, pointing to the defendant, "is definitely not the same person I know."

(Gabrielle Banks can be reached at or 412-263-1370.)

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