Westmoreland jurors acquit man accused of threatening judge with Hannibal Lecter photo |

Westmoreland jurors acquit man accused of threatening judge with Hannibal Lecter photo

Rich Cholodofsky

Gregg Tchirkow celebrated his 40th birthday Friday in tears as a Westmoreland County jury found him not guilty of threatening a judge with a picture of a fictionalized serial killer.

Jurors deliberated for about an hour before acquitting Tchirkow of stalking and making terroristic threats against Common Pleas Court Judge Meagan Bilik-DeFazio.

“I just want to apologize to Judge (Bilik)-DeFazio. If I made her feel uncomfortable, that wasn’t my intention,” Tchirkow said as he left the courthouse.

Acting as his own lawyer for most of the two-day trial before visiting Senior Common Pleas Court Judge Timothy Creany of Cambria County, Tchirkow insisted the copied picture of Hannibal Lecter from the movie “Silence of the Lambs” was only meant to express his frustration over his conviction for marijuana possession that kept him imprisoned for more than four years.

“I was reaching out to whoever had control of my case,” Tchirkow told jurors in his closing argument.

Bilik-DeFazio presided over the 2014 case in which Tchirkow pleaded guilty to growing marijuana plants in his Monessen home and sentenced him to serve 18-to-36 months in prison and an additional one year on probation. Tchirkow remained behind bars for the full three years as he declined to accept conditions of his parole and later refused to agreed to terms of his probation, which kept him incarcerated for another year, until August.

While in prison, prosecutors contended he sent Bilik-DeFazio 24 documents, including appeals, court motions and 18 letters. Some of the correspondence included rambling diatribes that contained references to the television show “Miami Vice” and Krispy Creme donuts.

His final three-page letter, sent in July 2017 while still in jail, was titled “metamorphosis” and included a caption “post prison” and photograph of the cannibalistic killer portrayed by actor Anthony Hopkins.

Bilik-DeFazio testified this week she believed the letter was a threat and feared for her safety.

Tchirkow insisted the letter was not intended as a threat. He said the Lecter photo was pulled at random from a magazine and used to illustrate how he was feeling about his own situation.

Assistant District Attorney Allen Powanda argued Tchirkow suffered from mental illness, a diagnosis the judge was aware of when she received the letter.

“The letter speaks for itself,” Powanda said. “Obviously, Mr. Tchirkow needs help. We all realize that. Mr. Tchirkow doesn’t.”

Tchirkow ceded part of his closing argument to court-appointed standby counsel Tim Dawson, who told jurors the prosecution could not prove the correspondence and Lecter photograph constituted an actual threat.

“They filed charges in abundance of caution maybe because a judge was involved,” Dawson said.

Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293 or [email protected]

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