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Penn Forest man ruled competent to stand trial

Published December 05. 2009 09:00AM

Following a hearing in which about four hours of testimony was given by two psychologists, a Carbon County judge ruled late Friday afternoon that a Penn Forest Township man was competent to stand trial on charges of arson and burglary. The arson charge stems from a fire that destroyed a township church.

Andrew W. Griffith, 30, will face trial that he set fire to the Christ Lutheran Church on Church Rd., on Nov. 4, 2006. He will also face a jury on a burglary charge for an incident that occurred after the fire and at a time when he was on bail for the charges for the fire. He also has another burglary and assault case pending.

Judge David W. Addy ruled that Griffith was competent to assist his attorney at trial. Addy ruled that Griffith was capable to helping in his defense, that he understood the charges that were filed against him and understood the consequences of the criminal justice system.

Defense attorney John J. Waldron presented testimony from Dr. Frank Datallilo, of Allentown, who said Griffith was not competent, while Assistant District Attorney Michael S. Greek presented the testimony of Dr. Timothy Michals, of Philadelphia, that the defendant was competent.

The basis for the competency filing was that Griffith sustained severe head and other injuries in a crash that occurred after his arrest on the criminal charges. Waldron argued that Griffith's head injuries caused him to have memory lapses which prevented him from helping his attorney prepare a defense to the charges.

Greek argued that Griffith was competent to stand trial and that his problems with his attorney in preparing a defense was the defendant's personality trait that he disliked the legal system and felt that people were out to "get him." Greek said that was not a mental disability but a personality problem that Griffith had in his dislike for the system.

To prove their points the testimony of the two doctors was presented during the proceeding that began about 10:15 a.m. and concluded with Addy's decision about 4:30 p.m.

Dr. Datallilo testified to the various tests he gave Griffith concerning his competency and also related to medical records concerning the injuries Griffith suffered in the crash, in which he was a passenger in a truck that crashed into a tree.

Griffith spent about three weeks in the Lehigh Valley Hospital, Salisbury Township, trauma unit and another three weeks in a rehabilitation center.

Dr. Datallilo said the injuries and memory loss suffered by Griffith changed his personality to the degree that it could not be restored.

Dr. Michals testified his examination of the defendant showed he did suffer from short-term memory loss but during his interview, Griffith was confrontational and repeatedly voiced displeasure with the legal system.

He also claimed that people were out to get him because of his family and their wealth. Michals said Griffith did suffer severe head injuries but felt he recovered enough to be competent for trial.

In the closing argument, Waldron said that the accident caused a substantial change in his clients' ability to understand the charges and help with his defense. He noted that Dr. Datallilo spent a total of about 10 hours with Griffith at various times before reaching his decision while Michals only saw his client for about two and a half hours.

Greek noted a report from the doctor who treated Griffith at the LVH for his head trauma in January 2008 said Griffith was not competent. However, in a follow-up examination and after the defendant had received his rehabilitation, the same doctor in January of this year said Griffith was now competent to strand trial.

Addy ruled that the burden of proof in such matters is on the defense and after he listened to the testimony of the doctors, the argument of counsel, and the law that applies, the defense did not prove its burden and Griffith was competent to assist his defense counsel in preparing for the case and at trial.

Griffith and his cousin, John Joseph Petrovich, 35, of 120 Lentz Trail, Jim Thorpe, were charged by state police with setting the fire that destroyed the church. Petrovich pleaded guilty to his part in the fire and was sentenced to a prison term. He has already served his term.

He told investigators he was present when the fire was set but accused Griffith as the one who set the fire.

Griffith has had four attorneys represent him in the case which has had a reported record 34 continuances filed.

The case is on Monday's criminal trial list but it will be continued, yet again, because there are other outstanding motions that must be addressed by the court. Addy promised to hear those motions soon to get the case moving.

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