Family of man accused of stabbing grandmother to death say mental illness to blame

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RICHLAND TOWNSHIP, Pa. - The family of a man accused of stabbing his grandmother to death while she ate breakfast in her Richland Township home last week is blaming mental illness for his actions.

Beth Johnston said her son, 26-year-old Levi Staver, is not the man who has been portrayed on the news. Instead, Johnston said Staver is a man trapped in the grip of schizophrenia and doesn't realize what he's done.

"He doesn't understand. When they medicate him and he fully comes back to himself he's going to be heartbroken, because without the disease he loved his grandmother," Johnston said.

 Last week, police said, Staver walked into the family's kitchen and stabbed his 76-year-old grandmother, Constance Johnston, in the back.

The Rev. David Johnston said he witnessed the attack and said his grandson had never shown any sign of violence in the past.

"I may have days when I'll be angry, sure, because my wife is gone. My life has changed and it's going to change a whole lot more. But we're going to keep going," David Johnston said. "I'm crying and most of the time when I'm crying it's because I can't believe the good things that have come out of this horrible tragedy."

The Johnstons said they are now on a mission to change laws that limit the amount of help available for people suffering with mental illness.

Beth Johnston said despite her efforts, state laws made it impossible for her to force her son to seek help.

"Every time a medicine needed to be increased he just called up and canceled and said, 'I'll be in in two weeks.' And they said, 'OK.' I'm saying this is wrong and they say, 'We can't violate his privacy we have to let him do that. That's what killed my mother and that's what we're angry about," she said.

The family has already begun working with a national organization on mental illness and has a meeting set up with a state lawmaker on Wednesday to discuss state laws.