Lawyer says Pritchard in ''no shape'' for court appearance

Posted: Friday, May 11, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A man accused of trying to kill four elementary school children by slicing their throats with a knife was in ''no shape'' Thursday to show up for a court hearing, his lawyer said.

Assistant Public Defender Jeff Mahlen also told District Court Judge William Fuld that jailers told him his client was not able to handle an attorney visit and he had not yet met with him.

Jason Pritchard, 33, is charged with four counts of first-degree attempted murder and four counts of first-degree assault for allegedly stabbing the children Monday at the Mountain View Elementary School. He is being held on $2 million cash bail at the Cook Inlet Pre-trial Facility.

Three of the children wounded in the attack were treated and released from local hospitals. Cody Brown, 7, was upgraded to fair condition at Providence Alaska Medical Center.

Jeff Harriman, the teacher who is being hailed as a hero for placing himself between the assailant and 8-year-old victim Stephan Hansell, said he attended the court hearing in hopes of finding some ''peace of mind.'' Getting back to teaching is proving the best therapy, he said.

''We all want to find some resolution to this tragedy,'' Harriman said. ''I think I'm OK. I'm like the kids. I'm resilient.''

Hansell's uncle, Robert Lee, said his nephew also is getting back to the things he enjoys, such as reading his Harry Potter books and watching Austin Powers movies.

''He is back to his normal self, like nothing ever happened,'' Lee said. The family has not decided if the third-grader will attend Mountain View Elementary School again, he said.

Pritchard has a history of serious mental illness and a lengthy criminal record. He has been arrested 13 time since 1994 on charges that include assault, stalking and criminal trespass. He's been diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Pritchard was involuntarily committed to the Alaska Psychiatric Institute in March 1999 and discharged about a year ago. During his stay, API staff reported to police that he had a belief system that entailed making death threats against children. During one incarceration, he tried to hang himself.

Officials at the Cook Inlet Pre-trial Facility referred calls for comment to the Department of Corrections. Bruce Richards, special assistant to the commissioner, said he was prevented by law from commenting on Pritchard's psychological state, or even saying whether he had been placed under a suicide watch.

Meanwhile, the state is preparing to meet any challenges that arise in the case, including the possibility that Pritchard's lawyer will pose an insanity defense, said John Novak, chief assistant district attorney for Alaska.

''We'll just have to see what takes place,'' he said.

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