The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

Local News

June 14, 2013

Driver enters new plea in Hermitage church crash

HERMITAGE — A Connecticut woman accused of ramming her car into a Hermitage church withdrew the plea she entered in April and entered a new plea Thursday.

Kathleen M. Descy, 60, of Ellington, initially entered a straight plea to charges of risking a catastrophe and reckless endangerment. Since that plea was entered, officials reviewed her medical records and determined that her mental health issues cast doubt on whether she had the capacity to enter a plea in which she articulates her guilt, said defense attorney Jack W. Cline.

The defense, in an abandoned motion to present her mental issues as a defense, said Descy has suffered for years from bipolar personality disorder with psychotic features, manic depressive disease and hallucinations and delusional and disorganized thought processes.

Instead, she entered an Alford plea to charges of criminal mischief and reckless endangerment. She accepted that prosecutors could have convicted her based on the evidence they would have presented at trial.

Alford pleas often are entered when defendants were so drunk or high that they do not remember what happened. Descy, who is not accused of substance abuse on the day of the incident, said her memory of the events is not clear.

The plea also opens the possibility that her insurance company will pay all or part of whatever restitution is ordered.

Cline said a straight guilty plea would negate insurance coverage.

"Now, at least, the insurance company is going to have to fight this out on a level playing field as to whether it was intentional," he said.

Assistant Mercer County District Attorney Daniel Davis agreed that prosecutors would not seek a deadly weapons enhancement to her sentence, continuing a provision in her original plea.

The amount of restitution will be determined at sentencing, which was set for June 28.

The church's youth pastor, John Morrison, was in his office next to the entrance at 3:48 p.m. May 9, 2012, a Wednesday, at Faith Presbyterian Church, 2370, N. Hermitage Road, when Descy drove a PT Cruiser up a sidewalk, under a carport, through two sets of double doors and a vestibule, and through the double doors of the sanctuary, where the car finally stopped after knocking over several pews, police said.

Descy tried to back up, but the car got stuck on building debris. Police found Descy standing outside of the car. The front passenger tire was off the car, police said.

Descy called the incident an act of civil disobedience and a demonstration of her faith in God, and demanded to be taken to jail, police said.

Shortly afterward, Descy, mailed a letter from jail to the church apologizing, expressing remorse and offering to pay for the damage, police said.

The church finished more than $80,000 in repairs in September, when it concluded its yearlong 175th anniversary celebration.

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