Suspect in Wiesel attack case pleads insanity

The man accused of attacking Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel and dragging him from an elevator in the Argent Hotel on Feb. 1 pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity Tuesday to six felony counts.

Eric Hunt, 22, is “not a holocaust denier and not a Nazi sympathizer, but is a young man who had a previously undiagnosed psychiatric disorder,” Hunt’s lawyer, John Runfola, said after the hearing.

Following the attack, a post appeared with Hunt’s name on an anti-Semitic Web site, stating that he accosted Wiesel in an elevator, hoping to drag him to his room and persuade him to admit that his acclaimed holocaust account, “Night,” was untrue.

Wiesel has campaigned for peace and holocaust awareness since the end of World War II.

He survived the war in Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps, but lost most of his family.

Hunt was arrested after he returned to his native New Jersey and his mother checked him into a psychiatric facility. A source close to the case said Hunt has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Hunt allegedly attacked Wiesel during a weeks-long road trip, during which the usually thrifty young man visited Disneyland and spent about $5,000 on himself, Runfola said.

“He’s wandering around the country and some of it was related to Mr. Wiesel and some of it was not. The most important thing is that he had never been treated for any psychiatric or psychological disorder in his life,” Runfola said.

Hunt began exhibiting signs of depression shortly after he graduated from Marist College in New York and moved back in with his mother in New Jersey, Runfola said. He left on his road trip without telling his mother or other family members where he was going.

District Attorney Kamala Harris’ spokeswoman, Debbie Mesloh, said the insanity plea came as no surprise.

“We certainly believe that this was a horrible crime that was committed and he has a right, under the law, to be evaluated to see if he was aware of what he was doing at the time,” Mesloh said. “But if he’s determined to be of sound mind, he’ll be prosecuted.”

In May, during his first visit to San Francisco since the attack, Wiesel said, “Since 1945, I have been in many places of danger, but I was never really afraid … This time, in San Francisco, I felt fear.”

Hunt faces six felonies, including kidnapping, elder abuse and assault, all of which come with a hate-crime enhancement, Mesloh said. He faces a maximum of seven years in prison and $10,000 in fines.

He is in custody without bail, Mesloh said. Runfola said he is being held in a psychiatric facility.

amartin@examiner.com

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