Great Barrington arson suspect may be freed from state hospital

Thursday February 21, 2013

PITTSFIELD -- David Pixley Sr. was found not guilty for mental health reasons after being charged with burning and threatening to burn several buildings in Great Barrington two years ago.

After the verdict was rendered in January, Pixley was ordered confined to a secure mental health facility. Since then, however, a psychiatrist at Worcester State Hospital has found that Pixley can be reintegrated back into society because he does not pose a danger to himself or others.

On Wednesday, Berkshire Superior Court Judge John A. Agostini scheduled an evidentiary hearing for next week to determine if there are procedures in place that would allow the 63-year-old Great Barrington resident to eventually return to public life. The hearing is tentatively scheduled for 9 a.m. on Friday, March 1, in Superior Court, although Agostini said it could be continued to a later date.

Agostini scheduled the hearing after the commonwealth filed a petition that disputed the findings of psychiatrist Marcie Kaplan’s evaluation of Pixley and asked that he remain under confinement.

"This is a very tragic and very unfortunate situation," Agostini said. "Life has not been kind to Mr. Pixley. He’s always fighting his demons ... I want him to be successful. I think he can be if everything is in the right place.

"The plan is that eventually he is going to be released," Agostini said. "Unless we do it right the first time, we’re going to have an unfortunate event."

Pixley, who has bipolar disorder, has a 36-year history of mental illness that was being controlled through medication. But problems surfaced after those medications changed shortly before the fires occurred, according to previous court testimony.

Following a jury-waived trial in Superior Court, Pixley on Jan. 4 was found not guilty of 10 arson-related charges for lack of criminal responsibility. He was accused of setting fire to the Lee Bank and Barrington Outfitters buildings in downtown Great Barrington on June 22, 2011. Police also found evidence of attempted arson at several other buildings in that town.

On Wednesday, First Assistant District Attorney Paul J. Caccaviello said the commonwealth filed the motion disputing Kaplan’s findings because it is allowed to under state law. The commonwealth was required to file such a motion within 60 days of the rendering of the verdict in Pixley’s earlier trial.

If the court upholds the commonwealth’s petition, Pixley could be confined for an additional six months. After that time period expires, Pixley’s case would be reviewed on a yearly basis.

Attorney Nathaniel K. Green, who represents Pixley, said if the court decided to rule against the commonwealth’s petition, it could release Pixley immediately. But if the court decided not take immediate action, it should appoint a mental health attorney to help represent Pixley.

Green said that Pixley still has an apartment, has a son who can provide him with transportation, and through the Veterans Administration has a psychiatric team in place that can monitor him if he is released from confinement.

Pixley has recently been held at the Berkshire County House of Correction.

On Wednesday, Green suggested that Pixley could be held at a mental health facility in Springfield until the evidentiary hearing takes place.


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