NORRISTOWN — The Abington Township woman accused of fatally shooting her elderly parents and using a chainsaw to dismember them will undergo a mental health competency evaluation before she has her initial court hearing on homicide charges.
Verity A. Beck will be admitted to Norristown State Hospital for up to 60 days “for purposes of an in-patient competency evaluation,” Montgomery County Judge Gail A. Weilheimer wrote in a court order.
Evaluating physicians at the state hospital will prepare a report to address Beck’s “mental health functioning, competency to stand trial, progress toward regaining competency, foreseeable prospects for regaining competency, and a determination of level of care,” Weilheimer wrote.
Beck, 43, who lived with her parents in the 1100 block of Beverly Road in the Jenkintown section of the township, is charged with first- and third-degree murder and possessing an instrument of crime in connection with the deaths of 73-year-old Reid Beck and his 72-year-old wife, Miriam.
After her arrest last week, Beck was remanded to the county jail in Lower Providence without bail to await a Feb. 1 preliminary hearing on double-homicide charges before District Court Judge Juanita A. Price.
However, that initial court appearance at a preliminary hearing will be postponed now that a competency evaluation has been ordered for Beck.
If an evaluating physician determines that Beck is competent to proceed to trial, then Beck would be returned to the county jail and court proceedings would move forward.
But if the evaluating physician determines that Beck is incompetent to proceed to trial, then a competency hearing would be scheduled before a county judge, who could hear testimony from physicians and arguments from prosecutors and the defense, and make a final determination about Beck’s competency.
Assistant District Attorney Samantha Cauffman is handling the prosecution.
Defense lawyer Gregory L. Nester, co-chief deputy public defender and chief of the pretrial unit in the Montgomery County Public Defender’s Office, filed court papers seeking the “competency examination” for Beck, writing in the petition that the evaluation is “necessary and appropriate based upon the facts and circumstances of the case.”
“The purpose of the evaluation is to determine whether the defendant is substantially able to understand the nature or object of the proceedings against her or to participate and assist in her defense,” Nester wrote in the application.
In a separate order dated Jan. 20, a judge appointed defense lawyer James P. Lyons, the chief homicide lawyer in the public defender’s office, to represent Beck at future court proceedings.
The bodies of Beck’s parents were discovered in the Abington home on Jan. 17 and Beck, who had been a teacher at the Saint Katherine School of Special Education in the Wynnewood section of Lower Merion, was arrested. At the time of the arrest, District Attorney Kevin R. Steele said, “There were signs of extreme trauma and a chainsaw was found and both Reid and Miriam were found in different stages of dismemberment.”
The autopsies revealed that Reid and Miriam, a former Lower Moreland High School nurse, each suffered a single gunshot wound to the head.
Authorities have not revealed a motive for the alleged slayings.
The investigation began on Jan. 17 after the victims’ son notified Abington police that he had gone to his parents’ home to check on them, because he hadn’t spoken to them by phone since Jan. 7, which was unusual, and he observed a deceased person lying on a floor, covered with a bloody sheet and a chainsaw near the body, according to a criminal complaint.
The son told police he spoke to his sister and when he asked if something bad had happened to their parents she responded, “Yes.” Beck allegedly told her brother that things at the home had “been bad.”
Abington police arrived at the home around 10:30 p.m. Jan. 17 and attempted to make contact with Verity Beck but received no answer. Officers deployed a remote controlled robot into the first floor of the home in an effort to locate Beck and deployed a drone to peer through the windows to determine her location but both attempts failed to locate Beck, court papers indicate.
At 12:10 a.m. Jan. 18, police entered the residence through a side door.
“Officers immediately noticed a strong odor of decomposition in the residence,” county Detective Anthony Caso and Abington Detective Robert Hill Jr. wrote in the arrest affidavit.
When police announced themselves and asked Beck to make her whereabouts known she followed commands and entered the kitchen. When police asked Beck about her parents she allegedly replied, “They are dead.”
Detectives found a deceased male wrapped in a cloth sheet and determined he was decapitated, according to the criminal complaint.
“In close proximity to the male’s body detectives located a 55-gallon trash receptacle. This receptacle was filled with white trash bags and these trash bags were filled with assorted severed body parts,” Caso and Hill alleged.
“An electric powered chainsaw with biological material in the chain portion indicated this chainsaw had been used to sever, at least some, of the body parts,” detectives added.
Detectives found additional severed body parts in a trash can in an attached garage, court documents indicate.
“This is somebody that is dismembering her mother and father and putting body parts in trash cans so clearly she’s trying to get rid of the evidence of her crime,” Steele alleged.
Newspapers, dating from Jan. 7, were found outside the home leading detectives to theorize that the victims were likely killed on Jan. 7, which was when the victims’ son last had voice contact with his mother, according to the criminal complaint.
In the second-floor master bedroom detectives found a wall-mounted safe and tools nearby and drill marks on the safe indicating someone, without a key or combination, had been trying to access the safe.
Detectives found a pillow that contained powder burns and a hole, consistent with a firearm projectile having been fired through the pillow, according to court documents.
In Beck’s bedroom detectives found two .38-caliber handguns, one containing one spent round and four live rounds and the other containing two spent rounds and three live rounds, according to the arrest affidavit. Both firearms were registered to Beck, detectives said.
Additionally, detectives recovered a third .38-caliber handgun containing two spent rounds and three live rounds but a check for ownership returned a result of “no record found,” court documents indicate.