Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Sylvia Seegrist: Guilty But Insane

Twists, Turns, and Tragedy

In the year after the rampage, Seegrist underwent extensive psychiatric examinations for competency to see if she could understand the charges against her and participate in her defense.

Her public defenders, Steven Leach and Ruth Schafer, insisted that the district attorney's office had no right to pry into Seegrist's psychiatric records and filed a motion that all records be returned. This inspired debate and more hearings that delayed the proceedings.

Dr. Robert Sadoff
Dr. Robert Sadoff
In the meantime, Ernest Trout, the man whom Seegrist had shot three times, died December 1 from a blood clot caused by the shooting. He had never regained consciousness, and the prognosis was blindness and paralysis even if he had lived. Seegrist's bullet had passed through one of his temples, damaging the frontal lobe of his brain and an eye. Both of his eyes had been removed. But despite the surgeons' efforts, Trout could not be saved.

His widow, along with the other survivors and relatives of victims, was determined that his murderer would get prosecuted.

A hearing to determine Seegrist's competence was set for December 5. The defense hired Dr. Robert Sadoff to evaluate Seegrist and he said that she was not competent to stand trial. A psychiatrist at Haverford State Hospital, John Fong, also stated that she was severely mentally disabled, and the personnel at Mayview believed she needed continued involuntary treatment. Her preliminary hearing, tentatively scheduled for December 6, was once again postponed.

The DA's office was permitted access to Sylvia's mental health records, but only for competency assessment, not for trial. They were also allowed to see Seegrist's records from the Swarthmore Public Library. Director Janis Lee was asked to disclose Seegrist's reading preferences. She believed this was a private matter, so she resisted. Reporters then attacked her in print for her steadfast refusal, but she did not budge. Only when the court ordered it did she finally reveal the list, and for her, as Janis Lee reported, it proved to be a painful ethical ordeal.

The court then appointed psychiatrist James H. Ewing to conduct an evaluation of competency. Seegrist was transferred to Norristown State Hospital, near Philadelphia, for the evaluation.

On March 7, 1986, Seegrist was declared competent to stand trial, with the proviso that before or during the trial, her mental state might deteriorate. The next step was a preliminary hearing, and Seegrist sat through all the testimony scribbling a long note. The defense introduced it as evidence of her disability, by revealing the nonsense that consumed her. She had written "The end of commerce, the end of post office, and the end of money!"

A trial was scheduled and Seegrist's defense attorneys stated that they would use an insanity defense, based on the fact that Seegrist was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, and that illness had caused the incident.