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Baumhammers' attorney to argue mental infirmity

Monday, May 01, 2000

By Michael A. Fuoco, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

The attorney for accused rampage killer Richard S. Baumhammers said yesterday he will mount a mental infirmity defense for his client and as early as today will petition Beaver County Common Pleas Court to move his client from jail to a psychiatric hospital.

 
  Richard Baumhammers. (John Beale, Post-Gazette)

Defense attorney William H. Difenderfer said he would be shocked if authorities didn't have "a ton of evidence" indicating Baumhammers, 34, of Mt. Lebanon, was the gunman who killed five people, critically wounded another and shot at two synagogues in five communities in Allegheny and Beaver counties Friday.

"But this isn't a whodunit defense, this is a mental infirmity defense," Difenderfer said. "We're working hard to get to the bottom of this. We're going to be bringing a lot of people onboard. We're going to do all we can for this guy."

Those killed Friday were Anita "Nicki" Gordon, 63, Baumhammers' neighbor in Mt. Lebanon; Anil Thakur, 31, of Bihar, India; Thao Q. "Tony" Pham, 27, of Castle Shannon; Ji-Ye "Jerry" Sun, 34, of Churchill; and Garry Lee, 22, of Aliquippa.

Difenderfer met Saturday with Baumhammers, who is lodged without bail in the Beaver County Jail on charges related to the fatal shooting at C.S. Kim karate school in Center, the last shooting in the series.

Difenderfer said he couldn't comment about his meeting with his client. But he said Baumhammers' family is "absolutely horrified" by the rampage that began with the killing of Gordon, who lived next door to Baumhammers and his parents on Elmspring Road.

"They are in a total fog," Difenderfer said. "They can't believe this has happened. They are extremely upset for the poor victims' families to whom they extend their heartfelt sympathy. They don't know what to do."

Adam Selker, a longtime family friend, answered the door at the Gordon's home yesterday. The family, he said, couldn't yet bring itself to comment publicly on their loss or the rampage that began in their home.

"The depths of the tragedy are so deep the lack of words says everything," Selker said.

Allegheny County authorities have yet to file charges in the four killings, the wounding of Sandip Patel, 25, of Plum, and incidents at synagogues in Scott and Carnegie. Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said yesterday the arraignment would be held this week but he wasn't certain which day.

Zappala said the county is taking its time in filing charges because "he's in jail and is not going anywhere" and because investigators needed some evidence that was in Beaver County, such as the .357 Magnum police said Baumhammers used. The investigation is proceeding well, he said.

Zappala said yesterday he will prosecute Baumhammers on a charge of ethnic intimidation, Pennsylvania's hate crime law. Gordon was Jewish and her temple was spray-painted with a swastika and the word "Jew." The other victims included two Asian-Americans, an Indian man and a black man. Patel, who remains in critical condition at Mercy Hospital, is a native of India.

Baumhammers had a history of mental illness, believed he had been poisoned on one of his frequent trips to Europe, and spent days before his two-county shooting rampage trying to recruit members for a right-wing, anti-immigrant political party.

He had been treated since 1993 for mental illness and had voluntarily admitted himself to a psychiatric ward at least once, according to lawyer Lee Rothman, who spoke with him Saturday.

A South Hills woman, who said she had been a patient with Baumhammers at St. Clair Hospital in Mt. Lebanon in May of last year, and said he told her he had been poisoned while in Europe.

Police found what one prosecution source described as a three-page manifesto that Baumhammers signed as "chairman" of The Free Market Party, which the document described as advocating the rights of European Americans and which denounced third-world immigration.

His party's charter, according to those who found it at his parents' home, complained of the plight of European Americans who were, in his view, being overrun by other races.

Difenderfer said that if Baumhammers isn't brought for arraignment to Pittsburgh today, he will ask a Beaver County judge to allow his client to be admitted to a psychiatric facility for examination. If Baumhammers is brought to Pittsburgh for arraignment today, Difenderfer said, he'll ask that he be examined in the county's Behavioral Clinic.

Zappala said that because of the crimes, Baumhammers will be sent to the county Behavioral Clinic after arraignment here if Beaver County District Attorney Dale Fouse doesn't object. Zappala said Fouse thus far has been "not only cooperative but tremendously professional" in working with county authorities on the multi-jurisdictional case.

While there were six crime scenes in five communities, Pennsylvania law considers all the actions of the accused one case, meaning only one preliminary hearing will be held. Zappala said he and Fouse will work out the time and place for the hearing.

Zappala said given reports that Baumhammers had a history of mental illness, it was a matter of law that a defense attorney would first explore whether his client was competent to stand trial and, if so, whether he was insane at the time of the crime.

That's the same legal tact taken in the case of another local man accused of a hate-fueled shooting rampage. Ronald Taylor, 39, of Wilkinsburg, the black suspect in shootings March 1 in Wilkinsburg in which three white men were killed and two others seriously wounded.

Last month, Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning ruled that Taylor was not competent to stand trial and ordered him back to Mayview State Hospital for up to 90 days of treatment, followed by an examination to determine his competency.



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