Psychiatrist Pleads For Freedom Says She Didn't Instigate Killing, But Only Failed To Stop It

Posted: June 12, 1989

The name, Lois June Farquharson, may conjure memories.

She was the psychiatrist convicted in 1974 of inducing her lover - a former patient - to commit murder.

Though Farquharson was not present when Gloria June Burnette shot Dr. Leon Weingrad to death outside Society Hill Towers on Aug. 29, 1971, she was depicted as the force guiding Burnette's hand.

The words of the prosecutor, spoken at Farquharson's trial in Common Pleas Court, created an indelible image: "The evil one is Dr. Farquharson . . . the puppeteer, the string-puller."

Farquharson was sentenced to life in prison without parole. By contrast, Burnette, who bought the gun, sought out the victim and fired the fatal shots, received a reduced sentence and early parole - rewards for testifying that

Farquharson had put her up to the crime.

The disparity in the sentences became the lingering irony in what was one of the seamiest psychodramas of the 1970s in Philadelphia.

Now, 15 years later, Farquharson, having failed in all prior appeals, is asking the state Board of Pardons to recommend to the governor that her sentence be commuted.

Farquharson is supported in her plea by a few longtime friends who believe that the life sentence is excessive.

The evidence that convicted her consisted almost exclusively of the testimony of Gloria Burnette, who had a well-documented history of mental illness. Burnette said she killed Weingrad to dispel Farquharson's jealous belief that she was having an affair with him.

"The word of a criminal psychopath sent this woman to prison for life, and there's something wrong with that," said Harold Stern, a Philadelphia psychologist who has known Farquharson since the mid-1950s and who knew Burnette. "It's very inequitable that the person who committed the crime and has been proven to have been deranged before and after the event has been released while (Farquharson) has been so severely penalized."

Joseph Alessandroni Jr., the attorney who represented Farquharson at her 1974 trial, has always contended that Farquharson's first-degree murder conviction was an injustice.

"What she should have been convicted of was involuntary manslaughter at the most," Alessandroni said. "The other woman should have been convicted of first-degree. She's the one who shot him."

After testifying against Farquharson in 1974, Burnette was sentenced to 20 years in prison with an immediate opportunity for parole. Since then, she has been released from prison three times - beginning in 1978 - and has been returned each time for parole violations. Her term is due to expire in 1991.

A frequent patient in mental hospitals since the mid-1960s, Burnette, 43, is receiving psychiatric treatment at Mayview State Hospital in Allegheny County.

Farquharson was 48 when she went to prison and now is 64. She has received top evaluations for her conduct at the State Correctional Institution at Muncy, Pa.

When her case is presented June 29, it will be the fourth time the Board of Pardons will have heard the Lois Farquharson-Gloria Burnette saga. Each time so far, Farquharson's plea for clemency has been rejected.

In a recent telephone interview, Farquharson said she admitted a share of responsibility for the Weingrad killing. She insisted, however, that she did not instigate it. Rather, she said, she failed to intervene when Burnette showed her a gun and vowed to shoot Weingrad. Instead of acting as a puppeteer, she said, "what I did was nothing."

Farquharson said she deeply regretted the tragedy. She said she had sought forgiveness from Burnette and had forgiven her in turn. She said she also wished she could achieve a "healing" with Weingrad's family.

In light of all that has happened, she said, "I feel a life sentence may be too much for what my role was. . . . I would like another chance."

*

In 1971, Lois Farquharson was a psychiatrist at Philadelphia State Hospital, known as Byberry. She was living with Gloria Burnette in an apartment at Society Hill Towers. The two women had met a few years earlier at Ancora State Hospital in Hammonton, N.J. Burnette had been a patient there,

Farquharson a staff psychiatrist. Later, they became lovers and fell into a pattern of heavy drinking and drug abuse.

Shortly after going to work at Byberry in 1971, Farquharson arranged for Burnette to obtain a job as an aide.

By coincidence, Leon Weingrad, 57, a staff doctor at Byberry, also lived with his family at Society Hill Towers.

Weingrad disapproved of the relationship between the two women, as well as the fact that Farquharson had become involved with a former patient. He also considered Farquharson to be professionally incompetent.

Weingrad had made his views well-known to the two women and at the hospital. Farquharson and Burnette developed a bitter antagonism toward him.

On the Sunday afternoon of Aug. 29, 1971, Burnette argued with Weingrad in a parking area outside the apartment complex, pulled out a gun and shot him three times in front of witnesses.

She was arrested immediately. She admitted the crime.

In her statement to police, Burnette said: "Dr. Farquharson had nothing to do with planning the murder. . . . She is completely innocent concerning this incident."

After her arrest, Burnette was diagnosed as an alcoholic and a paranoid schizophrenic. She spent a year and a half in jail and mental hospitals awaiting trial while police and the District Attorney's Office investigated

Farquharson's role in the killing.

While in custody, Burnette became angry at Farquharson for ignoring her. She was convinced that Farquharson had taken other lovers.

In January 1973, Burnette made a deal with the District Attorney's Office to testify against Farquharson, implicating her in the Weingrad killing, in exchange for a reduction of the charges against Burnette.

In the glare of news cameras, Farquharson was arrested and charged with murder.

Seven months later, Burnette wrote Farquharson asking:

"Do you know when your trial is going to be? If you would write me and let me know how you feel about me, I would give you some consideration about testifying against you."

"The only way that I can get a lesser sentence is if I testify against you," Burnette wrote in another letter. "It's not that I want to. I have no choice."

Alessandroni introduiced the letters and many others at Farquharson's three-week trial in 1974.

But Burnette, appearing as the key prosecution witness, dismissed them, saying she was "sick" when she wrote them. Burnette insisted that

Farquharson had inspired the killing.

She said Farquharson had told her to "do what you have to do" when she declared her intention to kill Weingrad.

Farquharson, on taking the witness stand, rambled in her testimony and failed to persuasively rebut Burnette or convey regret for the killing.

It was Lynne M. Abraham, then an assistant district attorney and now a Common Pleas Court judge, who cast Farquharson as the puppeteer who manipulated Burnette to commit the crime.

Abraham brought out at trial that Farquharson herself had been hospitalized for mental problems in the past and had lost jobs throughout her psychiatric career.

The jury deliberated just two hours before returning a guilty verdict March 5, 1974.

Two years later, Burnette recanted her court testimony, claiming it was ''all lies." But the courts denied Farquharson a new trial on the belief that she might have inspired the recantation.

In the 15 years since the trial, Alessandroni has continued to try to help

Farquharson.

In a recent letter urging the Board of Pardons to recommend clemency for her, Alessandroni, now retired, wrote: "If there is one more act of justice I would like to see accomplished in my late years, it would be (Farquharson's) immediate release."

J. Harvey Bell, a pardons case specialist for the state Department of Corrections, will be Farquharson's advocate before the Board of Pardons on June 29.

"This is a person who has demonstrated that she is not at risk to anyone at any time," Bell said in an interview. "If there is some way I can assist in giving her a positive future, I would like to do so."

Judge Abraham said she had opposed Farquharson's petitions for clemency in the past and, if contacted by the Board of Pardons, would do so again.

"There's no reason why she should get clemency," Abraham said. "She was the architect of this whole case. She was sentenced to life in prison. That's her sentence."

If the board decides in Farquharson's favor, it would recommend to the governor that her life sentence be commuted. Only the governor can grant clemency.

Farquharson said that, if her sentence were commuted, she would like to do church-related community service work, perhaps in Williamsport, near Muncy.

"I was never a community-minded person when I was on the street," she said. "I could have cared less."

Since going to prison, she said, that has changed.

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