WELLSBORO - The criminal homicide non-jury trial against Matthew Priset, 27, of Stony Fork Road in Delmar Township, opened Monday morning in Tioga County court before President Judge Robert E. Dalton Jr.
Among those testifying was Renee Perry, the mother of victim Clinton Perry, 28, of Wolf Run Road in Delmar Township, who police say was stabbed to death by Priset around 10:30 p.m. on Jan. 25, 2011.
Priset also is charged with burglary, aggravated assault, theft, receiving stolen property and criminal trespass.
The trial, delayed at least once because of Priset's mental health issues, originally was slated for Feb. 27. But after Dalton ruled he was not competent to assist his attorneys in his own defense, Priset was sent to Torrance State Hospital to undergo a mental health evaluation.
At a subsequent hearing before Dalton, Priset was found competent and his trial date set. Priset waived a jury trial so the testimony is being heard by Dalton alone.
In his opening statement, Priset's attorney, Bill Hebe, said the case was a "tragic situation of almost epic proportions."
He said Priset suddenly developed severe mental illness after no sign of it growing up.
His illness has been confirmed by two psychiatrists, and part of that "serious psychosis" includes in his delusional state, Priset thought that Perry had "invaded his soul" and that he was threatening him with a long gun." So he went to Perry's house that night to "confront him" and he took a knife with him to "defend himself from the gun."
Renee Perry testified that she had never met Priset, nor heard him mentioned by her son, who lived with her and his father, Freal Perry.
Renee said that on the evening her son was killed, she was home recovering from an illness and her son was in the basement of the house.
Sometime after Clinton and family friend Bruce House finished making venison sausage, she heard her son make a "guttural" sound, unlike anything she had ever heard from him. Thinking he had cut himself on his meat slicer, she ran downstairs.
"I looked around and saw someone I didn't know crouched over by the end of the couch," she said.
As she approached him, the man, later identified as Priset, stood up and she saw her son laying on his back with Priset crouched over his chest.
Priset stood up and hollered, "He's a sadist, he's a sadist," Perry said.
As Clinton tried to stand up, he then fell and she said she saw blood on his chest.
Becoming alarmed and not knowing what else to do, she said, she grabbed an unloaded rifle her husband had stored in the closet and pointed it at Priset.
"I told him to get out," she said. Priset then grabbed the end of the weapon, pulling it from her hands, and then ran out of the residence, she added.
The judge also heard from Priset's and Perry's friends and acquaintances.
One of them, Kaitlin Wheatley, 23, of Wellsboro, said Priset had made unwelcome visits to her home on a number of occasions and she had gone so far as to call his mother, Ethel Priset, to ask her to tell him to leave her alone.
Another friend, Graham Zugarek, testified he had seen Priset's behavior on occasion be "outside social norms" in that he had laughed hysterically for no reason, talked to himself and seemed to go from being sad and crying to angry and clenching his fists.
State police Trooper Todd Wagaman conducted an interview at the barracks just before Priset's arrest the day after the stabbing. A recording of the interview was played at the trial.
In it, Priset said he "drove around" the night of the stabbing and did not stop anywhere.
Then, at the end of the recording, Priest changed his testimony with further pressure from Wagaman, and said "No, I did stop somewhere," but then refused to answer any more questions.
When Wagaman formally charged Priset and read him what Renee Perry had said he had hollered as he stood over her son the night of the stabbing, he corrected him and said, "No, I didn't say he was a sadist, I said he was a Satanist," Wagaman testified.
The prosecution also subpoenaed Priset's father, William, and asked him several questions about what he had told police in an interview the day following the stabbing about his son's whereabouts and state of mind leading up to the stabbing. But he said he "could not recall" details about his responses to questioning.
Testimony is scheduled to continue this afternoon with Dr. Timothy J. Michaels, a psychiatrist from Philadelphia, who evaluated Priset within the past month.