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Lawyer: 45-Year History of Mental Illness for Man in Lansdale Matricide

Warren Pennick, 54, is accused of pushing his 74-year-old mother, Lorraine Pennick, down the basement stairs and cutting her throat on Halloween in their Salford Avenue home. Pennick is competent to stand trial, the Commonwealth said

Warren Pennick, 54, of 635 Salford Avenue, Lansdale, the man accused by police of murdering his mother on Halloween, had charges of felony first- and third-degree murder held for March arraignment in Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas at a Skippack preliminary hearing Wednesday morning.

Pennick allegedly pushed his mother, Lorraine Pennick, 74, down their basement stairs and then slit her throat, for fear of her becoming "homeless" due to their inability to pay for repairs for the home, police said.

According to his attorney, Pennick has suffered with mental illnesses for 45 years, specifically paranoid schizophrenia.

Clad in a red jumpsuit and donning a long, bushy white beard, Pennick shuffled into the courtroom of Judge Albert Augustine and took a seat beside his attorney Robert Adshead.

Behind him, his sister wept quietly, accompanied by a representative from Montgomery County Victims' Services.

Montgomery County Assistant District Attorney Teresa Kibelstis, along with ADA Jordan Friter, had one witness during the hearing — Lansdale Police Officer James Owens, the responding officer to the scene of the crime.

Owens, a 20-year veteran of the Lansdale Police Department, testified he was in the station when he was informed by a dispatcher that a man was in the police department lobby who said he killed his mother.

Owens said he met Pennick in the lobby, where he told him he killed his mother. Owens testified he asked Pennick why, and Pennick said he did not want to see her homeless.

"He told me he pushed her down the steps and cut her throat," Owens said.

According to the police affidavit, Pennick walked into the lobby of Lansdale Police Department at 10:12 a.m. Oct. 31, picked up the intercom phone and had the following conversation with dispatcher Jason Platt:

 

Dispatcher: Yes, how can I help you?

Pennick: I just killed my mother.

D: Say again.

P: I just killed my mother

D: What? Where? Where at?

P: 635 Salford Avenue

Owens said he asked for identification, and then informed Detective Sgt. Mike Trail about Pennick. All in all, he spoke to Pennick for three minutes, Owens said.

Owens then went to 635 Salford Avenue, where he found no forced entry. He came through the kitchen, he testified, and saw Lorraine Pennick lying at the bottom of the stairs in a pool of blood.

"A large kitchen knife was across her abdominal area," Owens said. "It looked like it was placed there."

Owens said there was other trauma to Lorraine Pennick: multiple stab wounds to her abdomen and lacerations to her wrists. Owens said he checked for a pulse, and found none.

He said police "cleared the residence" and set up a crime scene.

Adshead cross examined Owens, and asked numerous questions about the recording of the conversation with Pennick in the police department lobby. 

Adshead asked Owens if he had seen the affidavit, and Owens said he had not read it. Adshead then asked if what was written in the affidavit is the only thing Pennick said to the dispatcher. Kibelstis objected and Augustine sustained the objection.

Owens did testify that the conversation was not audiotaped, but was videotaped.

"What was his demeanor?" asked Adshead. "Very solemn," said Owens. "Would you say calm?" asked Adshead. "Yes," said Owens.

Adshead asked if Pennick seemed angry or upset, and Owens said Pennick "had a thousand-yard stare and he was sweating."

"He was very solemn about it, very matter-of-fact," Owens testified. "It was a little unusual."

Adshead asked Owens if any evidence was recovered from the home that would prove the Pennicks would have become homeless, but Kibelstis objected. Augustine sustained the objection.

"We can object all day long," said Adshead. "If there is evidence the investigators found, I'd like to know about it."

After the hearing, Adshead said District Judge Augustine "cut off legitimate questions" relevant to the defense of his client.

Kibelstis entered the autopsy report of Lorraine Pennick from Montgomery County Coroner Walter Hofman into evidence. The coroner's report states Pennick died from "sharp force injuries" and the manner of death was homicide.

Pennick's formal arraignment is March 27 in Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas. He also faces a misdemeanor charge of possessing an instrument of crime.

He remains incarcerated at Montgomery County prison in the medical unit. There is no bail in a homicide case, Kibelstis said.

A mental evaluation of Pennick was conducted by the Commonwealth between October 2012 and February 2013.

"He is competent to proceed to trial," said Kibelstis.

As far as what Pennick could face as jail time, Kibelstis said it's too early to say.

"It's a homicide," she said. "It's a serious case."

Adshead said he did not think the government did any investigation into his client's mental history whatsoever.

"What they find may support the claim that he killed her because he thought she would be homeless," Adshead said. "There's no information to back that up."

He said Pennick had an "irrational belief" that he was saving his mother from becoming homeless by stabbing her to death.

"He's legally competent, but he has paranoia and schizophrenia that's he suffered since he was a kid," Adshead said. "His mother was aware of it, and everybody that knew him was aware of it."

He said Pennick thought "erroneously" that he and his mother's home was deteriorating and they did not have enough money to fix it up, thus she would become homeless.

"It was a completely irrational thought in his head," Adshead said.

Adshead said his client is "functional," but did not hold a job. 

Whether or not there will be an insanity defense due to a diminished capacity is unknown at this time, Adshead said.

"If they do find a diminished capacity, I will argue he does not have the mental ability to form a specific intent," he said. 

Adshead said he represented a man from Bucks County, who allegedly stabbed his mother in her face and neck 67 times, and that defendant was found to be "so deranged" from schizophrenia that he could not form an intent to kill her.

"This is not a whodunit case," Adshead said.

Adshead said the hearing did not take place in Lansdale District Court because Judge Harold Borek recused himself from the case.

At the time of Pennick arriving at Lansdale Police on Oct. 31, he had blood spots on his wristwatch band and his right sneaker, police said. Pennick's hands had fresh abrasions, police said.

Meanwhile, at 635 Salford Avenue, Montgomery County Detective Bureau Forensic Services Detective David Schanes examined Lorraine Pennick's body on the floor of the basement.

Pennick had multiple stab wounds to her torso and wrists, and a slash wound to her throat, police said.

A 7-inch knife lay on her torso.

In a nearby sink, blood evidence was found on the hot water faucet, police said.

On the floor next to the sink — a bloody paper towel, police said.

Schanes moved his search of the crime scene upstairs.

There, on the floor of Pennick's bedroom, were khaki pants and a gray sweater stained with dried blood, police said.

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