WELLSBORO - After a morning of friend after friend of Matt Priset's telling the court how the young man they had known in high school and college had changed "into another person," defense attorney Bill Hebe had a video taken at the county prison last year played to top it all off.
The jailhouse video, shot in May of last year, which had Priset's mother, Ethel, in tears, along with several of his friends who remained in the courtroom following their testimony, showed a violently behaving Priset in his prison jumpsuit, yelling in a continual stream of incoherent babble, responding only once to prison guards when they asked him if he wanted to sit down.
"I'm just trying to stay alive here."
He also began hitting himself in the head with his hands and fell down onto his knees, crawling around on the floor, all the while continuing to yell incoherently as prison guards watched and videoed the "episode," which went on for about 10 minutes.
Priset has been charged with criminal homicide in the death of Clinton Perry, 27, at Perry's Wolf Run Road home in Delmar Township on the night of Jan. 25, 2011, when, prosecutors say, he went to Perry's house and stabbed him to death, allegedly believing Perry was Satan and was threatening him with a long gun.
Hebe is trying to prove that Priset was insane at the time of the killings and not responsible for his actions.
One of Priset's good friends from middle and high school days here took the stand first, telling the judge that he had known Priset since the two of them were about 12 and played Little League together.
When asked by Hebe how he remembered Priset he said he was "stellar, the smartest kid I knew."
"He was always at the top of his class, in general he was a person we all looked up to," Jamie Miller said.
Miller said he kept in touch with Priset following graduation, with visits back and forth and over holidays.
Miller testified that first time he noticed anything different with Matt was a year after college graduation, when he received a call from Priset asking for help.
"He was stressed out, struggling at work, having a tough time," he said.
After that, Miller said, he was hospitalized at Columbia Hospital where he seemed to be able to "de-stress."
The rest of the five witnesses, who were sequestered until they were called to testify, said roughly the same things about Priset, that he had changed dramatically from being a "likeable, smart friend who everyone wanted to be around," into someone they didn't recognize, more withdrawn, talking to himself, paranoid, fearful and confused.
They all responded "no" when District Attorney George Wheeler asked them if he ever harmed or threatened to harm any of them of if he ever mentioned Clint Perry or Kaitlin Wheatley.
He also asked them about "Freddie," who Priset had said was "getting into his head and trying to oppress him." Dan Gerstle, a classmate at Princeton, said that Freddie was a Princeton classmate who stayed on the couch of the apartment he and Priset shared for a time, but that he had never harmed him or threatened to harm him.
Another witness, former Wellsboro classmate Rachel Prosseda, told the court she had known Priset since the two were in second grade together.
She testified about a time when Priset was on one of his many road trips in between his hospitalizations, after he had been fired from his JP Morgan job in the city and was living in Wellsboro with his parents.
"He called again in November of 2011 after he had gone missing from home," she said.
Priset said he was lost and wanted her to come and get him.
"He said he was near Montrose, but didn't know where exactly," she said, adding "there was lots of babbling, laughter and yelling at me when he thought I wasn't listening to him."
Prosseda said she called the state police and the mental health hotline but they wouldn't come unless he broke the law, and he wasn't doing anything wrong, she said.
When she finally found him, Prosseda said, he was at a grange near Montrose, and when she pulled in it was dark and he looked "very frightening to me," she said.
She said she had been on the phone with her mother who had "told me to get out of there," because he was acting extremely "agitated, talking to himself, and then to me as if I wasn't there, asking where I was when I was right there, and then saying shh, shh, and disappearing around the building," she testified.
Prosseda also said Priset told her the cuts and scratches on his arms and hands came because he had been picked up by "zombies" when he ran out of gas and had to get away so he ran into the woods and hid.
Gerstle testified of how he and other tried to convince Priset not to take a reunion trip with the rugby team to play a national team in Martinique just weeks before the killing, that his mother had asked him to try to keep Priset from going but when Gerstle talked to him about it on the phone Priset was "emotionless" and said he was going.
Once on the island another rugby teammate, Michael Dreibelbis, said Priset did not take part in the scheduled activities, instead disappearing somewhere on the island, and "showed up about a half-hour before the match unannounced with his luggage."
"Everyone who saw him was very concerned, shocked at his erratic behavior, at one point he would roll around on the ground by himself at the beach and touch himself," he said.
The defense will call its expert witness, psychiatrist Dr. Clarence Watson of Philadelphia, this morning at 9 a.m.
Hebe said he didn't know if he would call Priset or his mother to testify.
President Judge Robert E. Dalton Jr. is expected to rule by Friday.