- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28—Convicted of fatally shooting his live-in girlfriend and their 19-month-old son in their Effort home in 2009, Michael Parrish appeared with his attorney in court Monday, taking a first step on his quest to overturn the first-degree murder convictions for both victims so that he can leave death row and seek a new trial.

Ranging from most to least serious, the degrees of murder are first-degree, involving pre-meditation, third-degree, involving malice, voluntary manslaughter, a crime of passion, and involuntary manslaughter, an accidental killing.

Parrish, 29, was charged with an “open count” of murder, which includes all four degrees, for each victim in the deaths of girlfriend Victoria Adams, 21, and son Sidney Parrish, who had recently undergone a heart transplant. A jury in March 2012 convicted him on two first-degree murder counts for both victims, whom he had shot multiple times, and then voted the court sentence him to execution, as opposed to life in prison without parole.

Parrish’s current attorney, Robert Saurman, earlier this year filed a Post-Conviction Relief Act motion on Parrish’s behalf. A PCRA motion details a defendant’s reasons for asking the court to overturn a conviction so that the defendant can seek a new trial.

In his PCRA motion, on which a hearing was held Monday before Monroe County President Judge Margherita Patti Worthington, Parrish says the murders he committed are voluntary manslaughter, not first-degree, and that he should have been convicted of such and given a sentence less severe than the death penalty. He says the jury would not have convicted him of first-degree murder had his defense attorneys at the time presented a complete picture of what led to Adams’ and Sidney’s deaths.

Parrish’s family has a history of mental illness, Deborah Belknap, the defense mitigation expert who had testified at his trial, testified Monday. His grandfather was diagnosed with schizophrenia and was fatally shot by a guard while trying to escape Bellevue Hospital.

Parrish’s behavior changed after a childhood illness, said his mother, and he developed a fascination with Nazi ideology, according to Belknap. He was diagnosed with a psychotic disorder at age 14 and later had his body tattooed with Nazi and Norse runic symbols.

Stephanie Savage of Brooklyn, N.Y., told the Pocono Record during Parrish’s trial that she married him in 2004 and later fled with their daughter after he became abusive. She said they were still married at the time he killed Adams and Sidney five years later.

Parrish was stressed out by Sidney’s medical issues and suspected Adams was cheating on him, according to trial testimony.

On July 6, 2009, Adams went out to visit friends and family, leaving Parrish at home to look after Sidney, according to trial testimony. The baby was overdue for his medication and the stressed-out Parrish repeatedly tried contacting Adams via cellphone to find out where the medication was.

When Adams returned home later that night with males Parrish didn’t know, Parrish went out to confront the males, after which he went back inside to confront Adams. The trial defense said Parrish’s mentally unstable history, emotional stress and suspicion toward Adams all combined in that moment to drive into a murderous rage, causing him to shoot Adams with Sidney in her arms.

Parrish fled the scene immediately afterward with help from a friend, Conrad Jankowski, but both were arrested in another state the next day. Jankowski later pleaded guilty and was sentenced in March 2010 to six to 23 months in Monroe County Correctional Facility.

Parrish was placed on suicide watch, upon being placed in county jail after his arraignment on murder charges, and went on a hunger strike.

He later pleaded guilty to both first-degree murder counts and requested the death penalty, which is rare for a defendant charged with that particular crime to do.

However, Ronald Vican, county president judge at the time, rejected Parrish’s guilty pleas in April 2010, saying Parrish’s description of what had happened sounded more like a crime of passion than premeditation. Having rejected the plea, Vican scheduled Parrish for trial.

Parrish in July 2010 again pleaded guilty, this time saying the murders had been premeditated. Vican accepted the pleas, but Parrish’s sentencing date kept getting pushed back due to various complications.

When it finally seemed a firm sentencing date was scheduled in 2011, Wieslaw Niemoczynski and James Gregor, Parrish’s attorneys at the time, hired Belknap to help mitigate his defense as part of the pre-sentencing investigation process. A mitigation expert delves into a convicted defendant’s background, via interviewing the defendant, family and friends and obtaining personal records, to identify mitigating factors the judge later considers when determining how lengthy a sentence to impose under state guidelines.

The defense can use those mitigating factors, such as the defendant having no prior criminal record and being respected in the community, to argue for a more lenient sentence. The prosecution can use aggravating factors, such as the crime’s heinous nature, to argue for a more severe sentence.

Belknap said she found it initially challenging to work with Parrish in identifying mitigating factors in his case. She said Parrish at first was depressed and suicidal, didn’t want to talk to her and told his family not to talk to her.

Parrish’s mentality later changed and he opened up and allowed his family to talk, Belknap said. However, she was unsuccessful in connecting with or getting everyone to trust her enough to give her as much information as she would’ve liked, so she was left with what she did have from them and Parrish’s school and medical records.

Belknap said she would have kept trying to get more information if given more time, but the defense had her hold off when Parrish suddenly and unexpectedly withdrew his guilty pleas just prior to his scheduled September 2011 sentencing.

Just days before the start of his March 2012 trial, Belknap was told to prepare whatever information she had gathered months before while they tried getting hold of Parrish’s family and friends to testify. Belknap ended up having to take the stand herself because the defense had been unable to get enough people to testify on Parrish’s behalf, which is now part of his claim as to why the jury was never given a full picture of the mitigating factors.

Parrish’s other claim is that Niemoczynski and Gregor were ineffective in filing various pre-trial motions.

Niemoczynski testified Monday to “blundering” by not filing a pre-trial motion requesting the trial be held in another county, where there had been far less pre-trial news publicity. He said another pre-trial motion could have been filed requesting the jury not be distracted by irrelevant details, such as Parrish’s Nazi philosophy interest or his ownership of multiple guns, in deciding if the murders he committed were premeditated.

But, neither Niemoczynski nor Gregor said filing such pre-trial motions would have guaranteed a different outcome.

The second day of the hearing on Parrish’s PCRA motion is scheduled for Sept. 21, when Saurman plans to call another expert to testify on how mitigation could have been better handled in this case.

Worthington likely will take the matter under advisement once the hearing has concluded. Parrish has the right to appeal in state Superior Court if Worthington denies his PCRA motion.

Adams’ family attended Monday’s hearing and plans to attend the continuation Sept. 21.

Her mother, Kim Adams of Saylorsburg, circulated a petition on her Facebook page to oppose Gov. Tom Wolf’s death penalty moratorium in March. Kim Adams presented the petition, which gained hundreds of signatures from people living in and beyond the Poconos, to Wolf’s office.

“Murder victims’ families have been victimized all over again by this moratorium,” she said.

___

(c)2015 the Pocono Record, Stroudsburg, Pa.

Visit the Pocono Record, Stroudsburg, Pa. at https://www.poconorecord.com/

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

_____

Topics: t000002458,t000027866,t000149877,t000027879,t000002487,t000165619,t000002478,t000027855,t000003142,t000157510,t000027903,t000002490,g000065627,g000362661,g000066164,g000222453

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times is switching its third-party commenting system from Disqus to Spot.IM. You will need to either create an account with Spot.im or if you wish to use your Disqus account look under the Conversation for the link "Have a Disqus Account?". Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide