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Suicide by Hammer Ruled in Man's Bizarre Death

A Williams Township man died as a result of self-inflicted hammer blows to his head, officials have determined

Michael Muretta struggled for years with mental illness.

His struggle reached a horrific end last August when the 47-year-old Williams Township man struck himself in the head with a hammer, causing fatal injuries.

That was the conclusion reached by investigators looking into Muretta's death, Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli said Thursday.

At a news conference at his office, Morganelli told reporters that Muretta's history --combined with physical evidence at his home and no evidence of anyone who wished him harm -- will lead the coroner to rule his death a suicide.

It's not clear whether Murettta intended to kill himself. The hammer blows may have been a response to the symptoms of the schizophrenia Muretta suffered from, which included hearing voices.

"His death may have been an unintended consequence," Morganelli said, but also noted that suicides often don't seem to make sense. "Mental illness is not rational."

Muretta was found inside his home on Morgan Hill Road on the afternoon of Aug. 29, after state police came to check on him.

In the days leading up to his death, people close to him noticed a change. There were signs of depression, Morganelli said, and also a "preoccupation with religious issues." (Investigators would later find a Bible and computer printouts of religious-themed webpages inside the home.)

"There was a real concern about his well-being," Morganelli said.

Police found Muretta still alive, but unresponsive and suffering from head injuries. He was taken to St. Luke's University Hospital and died later that day. At the time, police deemed his death suspicious.

But as they investigated, police found no evidence of anyone else inside the home, Morganelli said. All the doors were locked, and there was no sign anyone had come in or out of the only open window in the house.

A blood spatter expert found that the "void" that exists in homicide cases -- caused by blood splashing onto a killer -- wasn't present here.

And the wounds on Muretta's head were all concentrated in the same area, Morganelli said. That's not what a murder-by-hammer would look like.

"You'll see multiple wounds on the skull," he said. "It's usually a crime of passion."

Police also found no indication of anyone who wanted to harm Muretta.

Then there was his "long psychiatric history," Morganelli said.

In 1986, in Alpha, NJ, Muretta stabbed one of his neighbors, but was found not guilty by reason of insanity. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia. His doctors said he suffered from delusions, and heard voices.

He had been seeking treatment in the past few years, but had stopped at the time of his death, Morganelli said. One of Muretta's relatives told police she had been urging him to get help.

"She was trying to get him to take his meds, but obviously, he wasn't," he said. Muretta's autopsy showed no medication in his system, although medication to treat depression was found at the home. 

Morganelli said he met with members of Muretta's family Thursday morning, and said that "some of them" accepted these findings. Muretta's ex-wife told the Express-Times earlier this week that she thought his death was a homicide. 

The investigation is closed, Morganelli said, unless new evidence surfaces.

Morganelli acknowledged that the notion of someone killing themselves in this fashion could be hard to accept. But Lehigh County Coroner Scott Grim told him these cases aren't unheard of.

"Although unusual, it's not a case that stands by itself," he said.

Muretta had lived on Morgan Hill Road -- just outside of Easton -- since 1998. He was active in the community, serving on the Committee to Save Williams Township, which opposed the nearby Chrin Brothers landfill's exapnsion.

Patch reader January 20, 2013 at 12:21 AM
What a sad way to end the torment. R.I.P. Mr. Muretta.
Baybeedoll January 20, 2013 at 12:27 AM
Sounds fishy to me....
catherine January 20, 2013 at 12:54 AM
I am so sorry for the loss of your loved one! What a sad and tragic end. Schizophrenia is a tormenting mental disorder and to read this just tears my heart wide open. I am so saddened by this.
Jeff Lotte January 20, 2013 at 10:44 PM
Isn't this one of the guys who fighting against Chrin about them takin a bunch of land down there? ....how convenient for them.
Armed Citizen January 21, 2013 at 01:45 AM
According to the article, it's the guy who stabbed his neighbor back in '86 but was deemed insane. Very bizarre all around.

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