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Amish Man Goes on Trial in Wife's Death : Pennsylvania: Although a lawyer plans an insanity defense, neighbor says that the suspect probably feels in his heart he can do little but pray for deliverance.

March 27, 1994|CLAUDIA COATES | ASSOCIATED PRESS

CAMBRIDGE SPRINGS, Pa. — On the quiet Amish farms of northern Pennsylvania, violence is a foreign concept. That it could break out among their own in the form of brutal homicide was inconceivable.

And so the community would do little for Edward Gingerich but pray after he killed his wife. Although a lawyer plans an insanity defense, neighbor Kim Kerstetter said that Gingerich probably feels in his heart he, too, can do little.

Jury selection began Monday in the trial. Gingerich, who has a history of mental problems, was arrested March 18, 1993, walking down a country road carrying his 3-year-old daughter and leading his 4-year-old son by the hand.

Behind him, in his Rockdale Township farmhouse, lay the body of his wife, Katie, beaten to death and gutted like a deer.

Defense lawyer Donald Lewis and Assistant Dist. Atty. J. Wesley Rowden would not respond to repeated requests for interviews.

John Mihelcic, an attorney in Arlington, Va., with Amish clients, said they see the court system as "English"--the Amish term for all non-Amish--and, therefore, foreign.

"I could see their view being, 'It's out of our hands. The English do what they need to do,' " Mihelcic said.

Gingerich's father seemed to confirm that view.

"Whatever they decide. He just wants to get the trial over with," said Daniel Gingerich.

The Amish religion, which began in 16th-Century Switzerland, teaches its followers to live apart from the world and abstain from worldly goods. The severest sin--straying from Amish ways without repenting--is punished with excommunication.

To back up the insanity plea, the defense is expected to argue Gingerich was affected by fumes he inhaled accidentally. The workroom where he used solvents was not ventilated, neighbors said.

A successful insanity defense is rare because a jury must be convinced the defendant was so insane he didn't know what he was doing, said John Burkoff, a University of Pittsburgh law professor.

But Gingerich's religious background could work in his favor, Burkoff said.

"It's counter-intuitive to think of the Amish as violent, and so the defense will have that going for it," he said.

Reports vary about exactly what happened in the Gingerich home just before Katie Gingerich was killed, but the basics remain undisputed.

The couple argued and Katie Gingerich sent the oldest child, a boy of 5, to a brother-in-law's house for help. The two younger children stayed and apparently were watching as she was slain and eviscerated.

Police took Gingerich to Warren State Hospital. He was moved in July to the Crawford County Jail, where he remains without bail.

For a year before Katie Gingerich was killed, her husband had complained about being disoriented. The couple begged their "English" neighbors, who were barely more sophisticated on the subject than they, for help finding a doctor who could treat him.

Eventually, Gingerich was treated at a psychiatric hospital in Jamestown, N.Y., and given medicine. He returned home but stopped taking the pills after he felt better, his father said.

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