January 16, 2011 / 12:51 AM / 7 years ago

Convicted Amish killer commits suicide, police say

ERIE, Pa (Reuters) - Nearly two decades after Amish man Edward Gingerich outraged his normally peaceful religious community by killing his wife, he has been found dead of an apparent suicide.

Gingerich, 44, hung himself in a barn on Friday in Cambridge Springs, Pennsylvania, police said.

He had been living at the property with his attorney, George Schroeck, for the past six months.

Schroeck told Reuters that his wife, Stephanie, discovered Gingerich's body, along with a message written in dust on top of a bucket that read, "Forgive me please."

Gingerich became the first Amish person found guilty of homicide, when he was convicted in 1994 of involuntarily manslaughter for killing his wife, Katie, said Jim Fisher, who covered Gingerich's story in his book "Crimson Stain."

A jury found him guilty of involuntary manslaughter, but mentally ill, for the 1993 killing in the couple's home in Rockdale Township, Pennsylvania, where he crushed his wife's skull and used a kitchen knife to remove her stomach organs from her dead body.

"I always thought, and made the point in the book, that he would have been better off and society would have been better off, if he would have been found not guilty by reason of insanity rather than manslaughter," Fisher told Reuters.

In that case, Gingerich -- who was diagnosed with schizophrenia -- would have been placed in a mental institution and received more treatment than he ended up getting upon his release from prison, said Fisher, a former professor at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania.

"I don't feel good about the man who is in so much despair that he takes his own life by hanging," Fisher said. "That is a depressing end to a sad and depressing story."

Gingerich, after serving his maximum sentence of four years in prison for the killing, moved to a mental institution in Michigan before going to Indiana and eventually returning to Pennsylvania and the Brown Hill Amish community in 2007.

Gingerich had been on antidepressant medications, but Schroeck said that he had apparently stopped using them, Schroeck said. The attorney said he took Gingerich to see a nurse this week, and that Gingerich told him then that he was taking his medication.

"He was very depressed. I didn't realize how depressed he was, but when you take your own life, you can figure he was pretty depressed," said Schroeck, who was his attorney for the 1994 manslaughter case.

One of Gingerich's most painful experiences was his alienation from the Amish community after his crime.

"His community completely deserted him. They shunned him. They kept him from rejoining his family," Schroeck said. "He was an awfully good person, and he could have helped his community a lot."

Despite all that, Gingerich will be buried in an Amish cemetery, his attorney said. He added that is what Gingerich would have wanted.

"We'd often find him stumbling around the house using a lamp, even though I would tell him to use the light switch. He was Amish to the end," Schroeck said.

Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis: Editing by Greg McCune

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