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Mental health experts had visited suspect in grandmother's stabbing death

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Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013, 11:50 p.m.

Crisis counselors accompanied by police visited the Richland home of Levi Staver three times in the past two years, police said on Wednesday.

On a fourth occasion, a Northern Regional Police officer returned Staver to the home he shared with his mother and grandparents after he spotted him wandering around the neighborhood late at night.

Staver, 26, is charged with homicide for fatally stabbing his grandmother, Constance Johnston, 76, with a hunting knife on Tuesday, police said.

He told police that he was using the computer in his basement bedroom when “the Archangel Michael” directed him to “kill the witch.”

Johnston died at home.

An autopsy by the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's Office found she died from stab wounds to the back and chest.

Staver remains in the Allegheny County Jail; a judge denied him bail.

Police who visited Staver's home with employees of Resolve Crisis Network, which provides mental health services, confirmed their assessments.

“There was concern from the family over his mental status,” said Chief Robert Amann with the Northern Regional Police Department.

Staver was not violent during their visits, and the counselors did not respond as the result of 911 calls, Amann said.

“Resolve is an emergency counseling service. When they feel there's no risk, the police leave,” he said.

Resolve is a partnership between Allegheny County's Department of Human Services and Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic of UPMC. It has a staff of 150.

The Department of Human Services declined to comment. Staver's family could not be reached.

Staver and his mother, Ruth Johnston, lived in her parents' home for two years. He was not employed during that time, Amann said.

Staver did not own firearms, and police do not believe he used illegal drugs, Amann said.

Staver's grandfather, David Johnston, was pastor at Fairmount Presbyterian Church in Sewickley for 30 years, starting in 1968. He is pastor of Lifeline Community Church, which meets in McCandless.

“We cannot claim any deep or special insight into the conditions that might have led to, or the thoughts and feelings which could have possibly motivated this terrible act,” the Rev. Tony Cowley, Fairmount's current pastor, wrote in an email.

The Johnstons mentored Cowley and his wife, Natalie, when the Cowleys moved to Pittsburgh, he said.

A statement from the elders of Lifeline Community Church said: “Connie was not only a member of our church family, but a guiding hand to our congregation. She inspired so many people with her kind demeanor and ability to listen and helped those she met.”

Rick Wills is a staff writerfor Trib Total Media. He can be reachedat 412-320-7944 or

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