Wiesel case referred to court for the mentally ill

The man accused of attacking author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel in a San Francisco hotel was ordered to stand trial Tuesday, but the case is being referred to a special court where mentally ill defendants receive alternatives to prison time.

As The Examiner first reported, Eric Hunt, 23, allegedly grabbed Wiesel and pulled him from an elevator in the Argent Hotel, where Wiesel was attending a conference Feb. 1. In an Internet posting, Hunt claimed he wanted to bring Wiesel back to his room and interview him with the intent of getting him to retract his Holocaust memoir “Night.”

Hunt, of New Jersey, faces six felonies, including kidnapping, attempted battery, false imprisonment, elder abuse, false imprisonment of an elder and stalking, with hate crime allegations. He previously pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity but changed his plea to a simple not guilty plea.

John Runfola, Hunt’s lawyer, said Hunt was suffering from severe bipolar disorder, and that he is now receiving treatment and medication. Hunt followed Wiesel across the country on a mania-induced road trip before catching up with him in San Francisco, the lawyer has said.

“He is not morally ill, he is mentally ill,” Runfola said of his client Tuesday. Wiesel has previously characterized Holocaust deniers as “morally ill.”

While Hunt’s criminal trial will go forward with a date-setting hearing Sept. 4, his case will also go up for review before The City’s Behavioral Health Court — a diversionary program. If all parties accept the case’s transfer to that court, criminal proceedings will be put on hold while Hunt completes court-ordered treatment for mental illness.

But prosecutor Alan Kennedy said Tuesday that he did not think Behavioral Health Court is an appropriate venue for Hunt’s case, due to the seriousness of the charges.

Hunt, Kennedy said, stalked Wiesel across the country, then tried to persuade him “to say something that was a lie, [about] what was true to the very core of [his] being.”

amartin@examiner.com

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