Hempfield man pleads guilty but mentally ill in elderly father’s beating death
A Hempfield man pleaded guilty but mentally ill on Friday for the murder of his elderly father last December.
Douglas F. Novak, 41, told a Westmoreland County judge he has suffered from mental illness for more than two decades. After a five-month stay in treatment facility following his arrest, he said he now understood the charges against him in connection with the beating death of 92-year-old Frank Novak on Dec. 18, 2018, in his Hempfield home.
Douglas Novak pleaded guilty to third-degree murder, three counts of arson and one charge of risking catastrophe.
Police said Novak used a wooden arm rest from a dining room chair to beat his father to death, dragged the elderly man under a shower and placed him on a bed. He was found dead two days later after firefighters responded to a reported blaze Dec. 20 at the Courtview Drive home.
Investigators said a fire was set on a dining room table and in a pantry.
According to court records, Novak admitted to his role in the murder and claimed he attacked his father after they argued about a missing cell phone. Novak claimed he accused his father of hiding the phone and attacked him when the older man denied knowledge of its whereabouts, police said.
During Friday’s hearing, Novak told Senior Common Pleas Court Judge Richard E. McCormick Jr. he has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia and was prescribed medication for both illnesses.
Defense attorney Brian Aston said Novak killed his father, a World War II veteran, after failing to take his medication.
“He was moving back and forth to his parents house to help take care of his father and he took the wrong pills with him. His dad was in the beginning stages of dementia and as (the son) was between the houses his meds got mixed up,” Aston said.
Following his arrest, Novak was treated for five months at Torrance State Hospital in Derry. In May, a county judge ruled him competent to stand trial.
Aston said Novak’s situation is indicative of broader failures in mental health system.
“We just keep ignoring this, keep dealing with it in the criminal justice system. The cases are just sad, they’re horrible and these cases will continue until we get a real mental health system,” Aston said.
The guilty but mentally ill plea means Novak will be permitted to serve some or all of his sentence in prison and at a mental health treatment facility. It will not reduce the length of a sentence imposed early next year, said both Aston and Assistant District Attorney Leo Ciaramitaro.
“Mr. Novak’s mental condition is sufficient for a guilty but mentally ill plea to third-degree murder, which is the most appropriate in this case,” Ciaramitaro said.
Novak could be sentenced up to 40 years in prison for the murder conviction and additional 34 years for the arson and risking catastrophe charges.
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293, [email protected] or via Twitter .