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The Providence Journal
CYNTHIA NEEDHAM, Journal Staff Writer
1 October 2004
The manslaughter plea by Parrish B. Chase, 38, upsets some of the victims’ relatives.
PROVIDENCE – A Woonsocket man who stabbed two men to death in a city barroom four years ago pleaded guilty to two counts of manslaughter yesterday and was sentenced to 30 years.
Parrish B. Chase, 38, who was originally indicted on first- degree murder charges, pleaded to the lesser offense after lawyers on both sides agreed that he suffered “diminished capacity” at the time of the incident due to the effects of alcohol and prescription drugs.
Assistant Attorney General Scott Erickson said yesterday “it doesn’t happen very often” that doctors hired separately by the prosecution and the defense reach similar conclusions on a defendant’s mental capabilities at the time of a crime.
For family members of victims William Sencabaugh, 36, and Robert S. Bishop, 27, the plea bargain marked a frustrating end to their four-year quest for justice. Both families said they were angered by what they called “shameful” and neglectful treatment by Erickson. They say he rarely returned phone calls or informed them of court proceedings.
Michael J. Healey, spokesman for the attorney general, said yesterday that his office maintains that a designated family member was properly informed, as is required by the Rhode Island victim’s rights statute.
Healey said Erickson even chose the sentencing date because he knew the Sencabaugh’s point person, his widow, would be visiting Rhode Island this week from Florida, where she now lives.
“Obviously these survivors were very upset and that’s completely understandable because the cases we had here had bad facts. We can’t change the fact that two experts agreed that the defendant had diminished capacity,” meaning prosecutors could not go forward with the murder charges, Healey said.
On July 27, 2000, the police say Chase, a resident of St. Germain Manor, a public housing complex reserved for the elderly and disabled, was drinking at the Port Arthur Cafe in Woonsocket.
Witnesses said Chase got into an altercation with William “Billy” Sencabaugh after he was denied more drinks at the bar. Sencabaugh and several friends escorted Chase to the door.
About 30 minutes later, Chase returned with what the police described as a 6- to 9-inch military knife. As he slashed Sencabaugh repeatedly in the torso, Robert S. “Bobby” Bishop, a Providence bouncer who was shooting pool on the other side of the bar, saw the attack and rushed across the room to help.
While he struggled to restrain Chase, Bishop was stabbed in the chest.
Sencabaugh, a Cumberland contractor and father of three, died on the barroom floor. Bishop died a short time later at Landmark Medical Center, the same hospital where his baby daughter had been born just a week earlier.
The police arrested Chase a block away from the bar, minutes after the attacks. He was lying on the street, the knife in his hand.
Yesterday, Erickson told Superior Court Judge Robert D. Krause that Chase’s capacity was diminished to the point that he would be unable to form “any sane design.” Therefore, it would be difficult to prove “specific intent,” the standard required for a first- degree murder conviction.
Besides alcohol, at the time of the incident Chase was taking nearly a half-dozen prescription drugs including Prozac, Vicodin, Xanex, Effexor and Elavil, Erickson said.
And while doctors for the prosecution and the defense disagreed about which agent most diminished Chase’s mental capabilities, both concluded that the effects rendered him less able to act rationally.
Bishop’s mother, Catherine Bishop, did not agree. “This is not manslaughter, this is murder and you’re lucky there are fancy words for that,” she said, addressing the court.
Clad in a tweed blazer and shackles, Chase appeared to listen closely to the families, his eyes filled with tears.
The Sencabaughs spoke of the pain that has drenched their family since the summer of 2000. Tomorrow, Billy Sencabaugh’s eldest daughter Alicia will marry. “We will be reminded of these atrocities as his spirit walks down the aisle with her, because he cannot be there in body,” his nephew, Joseph Sencabaugh said.
When it was his turn to talk, Chase apologized profusely.
“If only I had the wherewithal to go to bed that night,” he said.
“Not a day goes by that I’m not hit with the sick feeling that I left several children without a father.”
As he was led out of the courtroom, Chase paused by the Sencabaughs. “I’m so sorry,” he told the teary group, before sheriffs escorted him out.
The family hardly noticed the gesture. Instead they huddled and discussed their disappointment. Billy Sencabaugh’s mother Carol and his sister Sue Mahoney complained that they were given no warning of their right to address the court until moments before the proceeding began. Sencabaugh’s teenage children, they alleged, were never notified.
“They should have been here to hear that man say I’m sorry you’re without your dad,” Mahoney said. “That’s the real news.”
Krause sentenced Chase to 60 years in prison, with 30 to serve. The sentence will be retroactive to July 2000 because he has been held in custody at the Adult Correctional Institutions since his arrest.