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Delco teen who attacked elderly woman in home is ruled mentally ill

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Delaware County Daily Times
POSTED: April 3, 2019

WEST CHESTER — The Chester County Court judge overseeing the case of a Delaware County teenager who attacked an elderly woman at her home in East Brandywine has ruled in favor of his plea that asserts his mental condition played a role in his crime.

Common Pleas Court President Judge Jacqueline Carroll Cody on Tuesday issued a one-page order saying that Khemmathat Fariss had proven, by a preponderance of the evidence, that he was mentally ill when he abducted the woman inside her secluded home, choked her, bound her hands and feet and taped her mouth shut, then left the house and stole her car.

Cody, who heard hours of testimony from defense and prosecution experts on Fariss’ mental condition in February, did not explain her decision except to say it as based on those evaluations, as well as briefs from the two side.

Fariss pleaded guilty but mentally ill to charges of attempted homicide, aggravated assault, strangulation, robbery, burglary and related charges for the February 2017 attack.

Sentencing for Fariss, 19, of Media, is now set for May 2 in Cody’s courtroom at the Chester County Justice Center. He could face incarceration at a state prison for a minimum of seven years on the attempted murder charge alone, but the judge could lessen his overall sentence or order him held for treatment based on his mental illness.

Cody’s ruling essentially accepts the diagnosis of a defense expert, Dr. Robin Altman, and rejects that of the prosecution’s psychologist, Bruce Mapes. Altman testified that the mental condition that Fariss developed over years of trauma and disassociation, made him incapable of adjusting his behavior to the norms of the society he lives in.

“I think he lives life like he was in a video game,” Altman testified. “When he harmed her, he knew it was wrong. However, he is a very sick person. I do not believe he was able to conform his behavior with the… law.”

Altman, who testified for more than two hours under questioning by Fariss’ attorney, Robert Keller, said she had diagnosed Fariss as having major depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and antisocial personality disorder. Moreover, she said he exhibited “bizarre” signs of schizotypal personality disorder.

In contrast to Altman’s testimony, however, was that of Mapes, a noted Exton child psychologist who evaluated Fariss on behalf of the prosecution, led by Assistant District Attorney Christine Abatemarco.

Mapes said that although Fariss had mental disorders, and had been evaluated for psychiatric treatment in the past before the attack, they did not meet the standard for being found guilty but mentally ill.

Fariss “shows a major pattern of violating the rights of others,” Mapes testified under questioning by Abatemarco. “He has demonstrated very cold and callous behavior towards people in spite of knowing his behavior is wrong and what the consequences are.”

Mapes said the attack on the woman showed a “high degree of planning,” and a lack of empathy for his victim, whose situation he did not alert authorities to even when he had the chance to.

Despite Altman’s testimony that he had dissociative impulses that would lead to a lack of control and show his mental illness at the time of the attack, Mapes said his diagnosis did not find either of those to be the case.

Fariss, 19, has been held in Chester County Prison since he was ordered to stand trial as an adult in 2017.

Fariss was living at the Devereux Foundation campus in Wallace in February 2017, having been placed there by Juvenile Court in Delaware County after a series of offenses. He was unhappy at the facility, because he said he was bulled by other teenagers there and that his pleas for help were ignored by staff.

He walked away from the facility sometime before 11 a.m. Feb. 22, 2017 intending to flee the bullying and to live “life on the road,” according to Altman’s testimony. However, he stopped at a house along Creek Road isolated from the road and whose garage door was open. He broke in, took items he would use to make his getaway, and left to hide in the woods and begin to build himself a shelter. He also found a cat, which he began playing with.

When the woman who lived there discovered the burglary, she called police but decided to wait until after she came home from work later that day to file a report. She left the house as Fariss watched.

According to authorities, when the woman came home around 5 p.m., Farris surprised her inside the house, attacked her from behind, strangled her, and told her, “You’ll be with Jesus soon,” according to her testimony.

After locking the woman, who was 72 at the time, in a dark basement closet, with her hands and feet bound and her mouth gagged, Fariss drove to Maryland in her Fiat 500, where he stayed for two days. He returned to Devereaux on Feb. 24, but hid the car and did not tell anyone about the woman, who he assumed was seriously injured.

The woman remained in the closet in her home for four days, unable to move. She became severely dehydrated and malnourished, said Abatemarco.

She was eventually discovered on Feb. 26 when a relative came to the house because she had been unable to contact the woman. The victim was in critical medical condition with a variety of injuries, but had been aided by the fact that the weather that month was particularly warm, which kept her from suffering from fatal hypothermia in the unheated closet. She has since largely recovered.

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