2 portraits emerge of alleged Rittenhouse Square stabber

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Steven Simminger 2nd (left), of Blackwood, N.J., was charged with murder in the March 13, 2016, fatal stabbing of Colin McGovern, 24, of Bucks County, after the two met in a chance encounter at Rittenhouse Square.

Two portraits of accused Rittenhouse Square stabber Steven Simminger 2nd have emerged before a Philadelphia jury, which began deliberating his fate Tuesday afternoon in the March 2016 stabbing death of a 24-year-old Bucks County man.

In her closing argument, defense attorney Gina Capuano asked the panel of eight men and four women to convict Simminger, 42, of voluntary manslaughter in the death of Colin McGovern. “Because of his [Simminger’s] mental state, he believed he was in immediate danger of being killed,” she said.

But Assistant District Attorney Andrew Notaristefano asked jurors to convict Simminger of first-degree murder, an intentional killing with malice. He contended that Simminger, armed with two double-edged switchblade knives, was looking for trouble that night and wasn’t suffering from paranoia.

The jury, which deliberated 2½ hours without reaching a verdict, will return Wednesday morning.

It was about 3 a.m. March 13, 2016, when Simminger’s and McGovern’s worlds collided in a chance encounter at the square. McGovern, of Churchville, and three of his friends, including two women, had gone to a couple of bars to celebrate the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day.

Simminger, of Blackwood, N.J., was drunk and high on cocaine and heroin, the prosecutor said. He came into Philadelphia, briefly saw a friend at a Center City party, then was walking by himself when he passed McGovern and his friends near 19th Street on the outer south sidewalk of the square.

McGovern’s friend Sean Boyd, 25, of Bucks County, testified Thursday that he “was drunk” when he made a comment to Simminger about his New Jersey Devils sports cap, “something along the lines of  ‘Screw the Devils,’” said Boyd, who didn’t recall much else.

In surveillance video from a Rittenhouse Square building, which showed the encounter at a distance, Simminger allegedly called something out to the four younger adults as they continued to walk away, causing McGovern and Boyd to turn around and walk toward him.

As the three men stood near each other, Simminger “attacks first with that deadly weapon,” Notaristefano said.

Simminger stabbed McGovern in the abdomen, then lunged toward Boyd, slashing the front of his Notre Dame jersey, the prosecutor said. After Simminger fell, McGovern got on top of him to try to take the knife away, Notaristefano said.

Instead, McGovern was stabbed 10 times, including a fatal 6-inch wound to his heart. He was able to get up and walk away, but then collapsed, out of the camera’s view. He had no pulse when police arrived.

Capuano presented two expert defense witnesses during the trial, including famed forensic pathologist Cyril Wecht, of Pittsburgh, who testified Tuesday.

Wecht, who examined McGovern’s autopsy report and saw the video, testified that the first stabbing appeared to be to the abdomen and was not lethal. He agreed with Capuano that the other stabbings, when McGovern was on top of Simminger, were consistent with Simminger defending himself with the knife.

Frank Dattilio, a forensic psychologist who testified for the defense Friday, told jurors that in Simminger’s perception, “he believed he was going to be killed and he defended himself accordingly.”

The defense pointed to a 1994 car accident as a major cause of Simminger’s mental-health issues. At the time, Simminger was in the Navy, stationed in Norfolk, Va. One night, after he and fellow sailors had been drinking at a bar, their car overturned. Simminger got out, but was struck by another car. He injured both legs, one of which was amputated from the knee down. He has since worn a prosthesis.

Capuano has contended that the accident caused a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. She also noted that even before the accident, Simminger showed signs of delusion, believing he has an imaginary friend. In texts to his sister before the stabbing, Simminger thought people were out to get him, Capuano said. After his arrest, while alone in a homicide interview room, Simminger was seen in surveillance video talking to what appeared to be an imaginary person.

But the prosecutor, who brought in psychiatrist John Sebastian O’Brien as a rebuttal witness, contends that Simminger didn’t suffer PTSD or a brain injury, but that his longtime alcohol and drug abuse affected his behavior.

Simminger was a sullen, angry man, Notaristefano said. In December 2014, Simminger, the prosecutor said, even reported to a Veterans Affairs hospital staffer that he has homicidal thoughts “when he sees happy people.”