Police arrest man for stabbing death in Richland of grandmother

| Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013, 1:27 p.m.

A Richland man crept up the basement steps on Tuesday morning and fatally stabbed his grandmother as she ate breakfast because, he told police later, “If the archangel wants me to do something, I just do it.”

There was no advance warning, police said, before Levi Staver, 26, used a hunting knife to stab Constance Johnston, 76, once in the back shortly after 9:30 a.m. as she sat with her husband, David.

“There does not seem to be anything transparent about this. There was no heated argument. As far as we know, it was the first time they had seen each other today,” said Robert Amann, chief of the Northern Regional Police Department.

Staver told police he was on the computer in his basement bedroom when “the archangel” directed him to “kill the witch,” Allegheny County police homicide detectives wrote in the criminal complaint. “Staver went on to say he then ‘crossed himself,' making the sign of a cross ... got dressed like a soldier, took a sword (the knife) and said ‘this thing has got to go.' ”

David Johnston, a retired minister, told police he heard Staver “sneakily” coming up the stairs but thought nothing of it because that was something the young man usually did, the complaint states.

Following the stabbing, Staver “got into a struggle with his grandfather, who threw Staver out of the house. Fortunately, the grandfather was not injured,” Amann said.

Staver's mother, Ruth Johnston, who lives in the basement with her son, called 911 when she heard a commotion, Amann said.

Police arrested Staver in the backyard of the home along Route 910. Paramedics pronounced his grandmother dead in the kitchen.

Staver was awaiting arraignment in Night Court. Family members declined to comment.

“Just as neighbors, I feel sorry for them. It's a real tragedy. She was a very nice woman,” said Jim Kowalski, who lives next door. “Her husband's health had been in decline, and she seemed to be doing more and more work around the house.”

Police had been called to the Johnston home several times before Tuesday.

“There were some serious concerns about Levi's mental status, that he was just not acting right,” Amann said.

Kowalski said Staver and his mother had lived in the Richland house for about two years. The Johnstons moved there about 10 years ago, he said.

“I knew her to see her and to wave to her. This is just terrible,” said Vickie Kusunich, another neighbor.

Johnston is a former copy editor for Trib Total Media who worked in the Green Tree and NewsWorks offices.

“Connie was a kind person and valued employee,” said Kim Palmiero, managing editor of Gateway Newspapers, a group of weekly newspapers owned by Trib Total Media. “She was an experienced copy editor who cared deeply about community news and making the papers better.”

Rick Wills and Michael Hasch are staff writers for Trib Total Media.

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