Three years ago, Las Vegas police arrived at a home near Rancho Drive and Bonanza Road and found a 48-year-old diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic hiding in the living room.
“That demon in the back room was trying to attack me,” Charles Greco told police.
What officers found in the bedroom of the home on the 200 block of Delamar Street was the body of Charles Greco’s 84-year-old father, Albert. His son had strangled him and mutilated his body with a butcher knife, severing his head and penis, authorities said.
Beyond the gory details of Albert Greco’s slaying is the irony that the World War II veteran had spent his life trying to keep his son from being institutionalized, against the advice of his other son, A.J., who believed Charles Greco posed a threat to his aging father.
“Al would not blame him (Charles Greco) for what happened, he loved him. He knew the consequences,” said the Grecos’ neighbor, Denise Alford, 46, who has known the Grecos all her life.
Off his medication and prone to religious-themed delusions, Charles Greco believed his father was a devil at the time of the killing, according to court documents.
His lawyer said he mutilated him after the slaying because he did not want the devil to repopulate hell.
Although he originally entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, on Wednesday Charles Greco pleaded guilty but mentally ill to one count of second-degree murder and one count of mayhem for the mutilation. As a result of an agreement between prosecutors and his public defender, Scott Coffee, Charles Greco will be sentenced to 12 years to life in prison in December in District Judge Stewart Bell’s courtroom.
“The father spent his whole life trying to keep Charles out of an institution and when he got too old, everything came crashing down and now Charlie will spend the rest of his life in institutions,” Coffee said. “It’s a real tragedy.”
The plea guilty but mentally ill stems from new legislation that took effect this fall and allows judges to sentence defendants to the same penalties as if they were guilty but not mentally ill. But it also requires the Department of Corrections to provide mental health treatment, something they were supposed to do before the new law.
Had Charles Greco been successful with the insanity defense, Coffee said he probably would have spent most of his life at Lake’s Crossing, the state’s lockdown facility for mentally ill offenders in Sparks. But for someone such as Greco, who suffers from an incurable mental illness that can be controlled only by medication, Coffee said he believed the prison environment is better because it allows interaction with other inmates, and activities, such as yard and dining time.
“Being around mentally ill people 24/7, and only mentally ill people, has its stresses,” Coffee said.
Since his arrest in 2004, Greco has been stabilized on medications and does not appear to be actively delusional, he said.
But, Coffee said, Greco’s case will be a test of the Legislature’s new law and whether the prison system can handle “people like Charlie.”
“Charlie is probably one of the sweetest, nicest guys you would ever meet, just an absolutely wonderful person to deal with. He’s always respectful. He’s never demanding, except this incurable mental illness makes him incredibly dangerous,” Coffee said.
The Nevada prison system is equipped to deal with paranoid schizophrenics and has 56 beds set up to provide in-patient care, said Department of Corrections Director Howard Skolnik, who said the department has about 2,500 offenders who suffer from some form of mental illness.
“I suspect we are the largest mental health facility in Nevada and that’s not atypical,” across the country, Skolnik said.
When police arrived at the Greco home on Jan. 20, 2004, Charles Greco told his lawyer later he thought the officers were angels dressed in blue.
“When they came in he was so relieved to see them, he thought he would get some protection,” Coffee said.
The day before his father’s death, Charles Greco went to the Alfords’ home and spoke to Denise Alford’s father, Chuck.
“He was sick, you could always tell when he was off his pills,” Denise Alford said.
But when Charles Greco was on his medication, Chuck Alford, 86, said, “he wasn’t so bad.”
The Grecos and Alfords have lived together for four decades in what once was a close-knit neighborhood before residents moved away or died. Albert Greco’s funeral was like a neighborhood reunion, the Alfords said.
Albert Greco, who had fought at the Battle of the Bulge, was a well-liked, physically fit walker, who could still fit into his military uniform for parades, which he frequently participated in, Chuck Alford said.
“He loved his kids,” he said.
He always said he felt Charles Greco was his responsibility, Chuck Alford said.
This case serves as an example of the breakdown in mental health care system in Nevada, Coffee said.
There is a question of who will be responsible for Charles Greco should he ever be paroled.
“I don’t know,” Coffee said. “It depends on whether we have advances in the medical community in the next 12 years.”
Because Charles Greco committed a violent offense, Skolnik said he would not be allowed to take part in the prison system’s transitional housing program.
He must have a release program approved by the Division of Parole and Probation before he could ever be paroled, Skolnik said. Without guaranteed placement with a relative, or a mental health facility in the state, Skolnik said Charles Greco probably will remain in prison for the rest of his life.
His brother A.J., who was unavailable for comment Friday, is an unlikely caretaker, neighbors said.
“He’s torn. He doesn’t want anything to do with him (Charles Greco),” Denise Alford said. “Even though I think deep down inside he still loves him.”
The Alfords said they did not believe Charles Greco could ever take care of himself, and that he seemed to have a hard time taking his medication on his own.
“He can’t hold down a job,” Chuck Alford said.
Denise Alford said she did not believe he’d ever be safe unsupervised.
“I know Al didn’t want him institutionalized,” she said. But she thought he might say something different if he were alive today.
“He would want him to go to a place that was good to him and kept him under wraps because he was such a good guy,” she said. “He wanted to protect his son at the cost of his own life.”
Contact reporter K.C. Howard at email@example.com or (702) 380-1039.