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August 23, 1996

Author: HENRY FITZGERALD JR. Staff Writer

As Corinne Johnson lay on her bedroom floor with a broken neck, her son, Edward Gryczan, went to the kitchen for a butcher knife. Then he said he slit her throat and stabbed her six times in the heart.   “I wanted her dead,” Gryczan told the 12 circuit jurors, who late Thursday would recommend, 7-5, that he should die in the electric chair.

“The [knife),” he continued, “was sort of like the head shot you give a wounded animal to finish it off. I wanted to make sure she was dead.”   Gryczan, 49, was convicted in April of first-degree murder in the death of his mother, who was 67 when her son crept up behind her, cracked her neck, then slashed and stabbed her helpless body in January 1994. She had just returned to her Pompano Beach apartment from a bingo game.

Since the conviction, Gryczan has repeatedly said he wants to die in Florida’s electric chair. He apparently convinced most of the jury. After an hour and 45 minutes of deliberation on Thursday, they recommended he get his wish.   Next is a Sept. 20 hearing in which Circuit Judge Paul Backman will listen to more testimony in Gryczan’s favor and some from prosecutors. Backman will then make the final life or death decision for Gryczan.

On Thursday, Gryczan graphically explained why his life should end.   “I could list a page full of reasons why I killed her: She was always complaining that she was sick, or she had problems. But I killed her for money to do drugs, buy booze and party,” Gryczan said as he stood casually at a podium, talking as if he were a teacher addressing students. “There is no real reasonable chance of rehabilitation. I’ve said I will kill again. I’m an anti-social animal. In the past 21/2 years, I have not shed one tear over the horrifying death of my mother.”

When the jury returned with its recommendation, Gryczan slapped his hand in elation on the table in front of him.   Jurors declined to comment, but as they walked through the halls of the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, one said: “He got what he wanted!”

Prosecutor Peter Magrino said the jurors made the right decision.   “The important thing is that they didn’t buy what he called a bull—insanity defense,” Magrino said. “They determined at the trial that he was sane and this sentence recommendation reflects that.”

Magrino warned jurors that he thought Gryczan’s death plea was a ploy to seek mercy. He urged jurors not to fall into the trap.   “His display is nothing more than an attempt to create sympathy from ya’ll,” Magrino said. “I submit to you he has an ulterior motive to his presentation. He wants a life recommendation.”

But Bill Laswell, Gryczan’s fired attorney, said there was never any doubt that his former client was serious.   “He was talking about dying in the electric chair from the get-go,” said Laswell, whom Gryczan fired on Wednesday. Both Laswell and another attorney, Mindy Solomon, had said they could not represent Gryczan if he wanted to die.

“He wants to die. He doesn’t want sympathy,” Laswell said. “But he clearly doesn’t qualify for the death penalty. He is mentally ill. I don’t think you could rely on Edward Gryczan to make an intelligent, logical decision today than you could the day he broke his mother’s neck.”

Laswell and Solomon had argued that the Vietnam-era Army veteran suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, a mental condition in which people, usually combat veterans, suffer from delusions or other mental problems.

Gryzcan had checked himself into the Miami veteran’s hospital several times, claiming he was having homicidal thoughts, and he was an outpatient at the Veteran Administration’s Oakland Park clinic. He had been living with his mother about a year.   Magrino countered that Gryczan had been diagnosed with depression and was prescribed medication to ease it. Two psychologists also testified that Gryczan was competent to stand trial.

Gryczan insisted he was not insane.   “I knew exactly what I was doing,” he said. “Defense experts talked about whether I was crazy, but it was all bull—-. When I was in the clinic, I made no effort to get better, and when I came home on the weekends, I smoked crack and drank booze. Finally, they told me I could go home. Three weeks later, I had killed my mother.”

Police found his mother nine days after she was killed. Gryczan had stayed in the house with the decaying corpse the entire time. When police arrived they discovered that Gryczan had sprinkled scented baby powder and perfume in the apartment to mask the smell. He’d also covered her head with a plastic garbage bag.

Copyright 1996 Sun-Sentinel Company
Record Number:  9608220608