WELLSBORO - Dr. Timothy J. Michaels, a forensic psychiatrist from Philadelphia, testified in Tioga County Court Tuesday for the prosecution in the case against Matthew Priset, 28, accused of killing a former classmate in January 2011.
According to Michaels, Priset suffers from schizo-affective disorder, which affects both the thoughts and the emotions of the sufferer, and also has been diagnosed as bi-polar, which causes the patient to experience extreme highs and lows in his emotional state.
"In schizo-affective disorder, the patient has abnormal thoughts and feelings that are not based in reality," he said.
He also can have hallucinations and hear voices, he added.
Treatment for such a disorder usually is medication, but the patient must stay on the medication, and not stop taking it.
Priset was treated with medication at one point during his multiple hospitalizations, but stopped taking it when he was released because it was too expensive.
He also was using marijuana daily and chain smoking cigarettes, he said.
Priset admitted to stabbing Clinton Perry in the basement of his home on Horse Thief Run Road in Delmar Township after going there with a knife because he thought Perry was "Satan," and was "jamming up his soul" and "threatening him with a long gun."
According to testimony from Michaels, Priset said he had visions of Perry holding a long gun and telling Priset to "come and get me. I am Satan incarnate."
He also said Priset was depressed and that he heard whispers, messages and voices and that the voices could hear him.
He also spoke about hearing voices he called "Freddie" and "Clinton" sometimes shouting and that he was "haunted by them," and feared being taken over by Satanic spirits, Michaels said.
However, despite being mentally ill, Michaels said, he didn't believe Priset was insane at the time of the killing, but rather "was not capable of conforming his actions to the law."
He noted that many people have this illness and function normally on medication and don't get involved in criminal behavior.
After consulting with Deputy District Attorney John Cowley, District Attorney George Wheeler asked Michaels if Priset could have been malingering, or feigning his illness, in order to escape punishment.
"Malingering is not a disorder, but has to be considered as an explanation for a person's behavior other than mental illness," Michaels said.
Michaels explained that Priset's sense of self- preservation may have played a part in causing him to try to hide the evidence of his crime immediately afterward, but he didn't believe Priset was "faking" his symptoms, even though he seemed to be exhibiting no symptoms following treatment.
Michaels could not say how someone who had no family history of mental illness could develop one, especially someone like Priset, who graduated from Wellsboro High School as valedictorian of his class in 2003, and went on to graduate from Princeton University and then work at JP Morgan Chase in New York City right out of college.
He did say, however, that the cause of mental illness is not known.
It was while he was living in New York that he was hospitalized for the first time, Michaels said.
Michaels said his suspicion is that being rejected by a love interest the day of the killing and that person having had a relationship with the victim may have played a role in Priset's actions.
"My opinion is that he knew what he had done and what he had done was wrong, that he had taken a knife and stabbed Mr. Perry in the throat, neck and chest, killing him," Michaels added.
Court resumes this morning with witnesses for the defense. The defense's expert witness will testify Thursday morning, according to Court Administrator Nancy Clemens.
The case is expected to wrap up by the weekend.