Psychiatrists testify in nail gun murder trial
November 14, 2007
The trial of murder suspect Richard Williams continued in Napa Wednesday, with a psychiatrist testifying for the defense that Williams was unconscious of his acts as he killed his estranged wife with a nail gun.
Dr. Stuart Shipko of Pasadena testified that symptoms from cold turkey withdrawal of the anti-depressant medication Paxil caused an altered state of consciousness while Williams performed the killing, making him legally unconscious, Nevada County District Attorney Cliff Newell said Wednesday.
Under California law, a person who is unconscious is not responsible for criminal acts, and unconsciousness does not necessarily mean a person is passed out, said Stephen Munkelt, Williams’ defense lawyer.
When Superior Court Judge Thomas Anderson gave instructions to the jury, he read from a standard document written about the unconsciousness defense, and Munkelt re-read it:
“Unconsciousness does not require that a person be incapable of movement,” Munkelt read. “This rule of law applies to persons who are not unconscious, but who perform acts while suffering from a blackout, while sleepwalking, during epileptic seizures, during involuntary intoxication or from the lack of medication,” among other possible examples.
“From our perspective, that’s a little far-fetched,” Newell said, adding that Williams sat on the witness stand Friday and described each step of the killing. “It seems (Williams) knew exactly what he was doing.”
Shipko has testified in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals concerning Paxil addiction as well as other adverse reactions to certain anti-depressant drugs, according to his Web site, http://www.stuartshipko.com.
In 2002, he testified in a civil case against pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline, which was claiming in advertisements that Paxil is non-habit forming. Shipko testified the company was misleading consumers into thinking they could stop taking the drug at any time, but that withdrawal symptoms can be severe.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, possible side-effects of Paxil therapy include changes of mood and suicidal thoughts or actions when the drug is first taken or when the dose is changed. There is no mention in the FDA’s patient information sheet on Paxil regarding homicidal thoughts or actions.
Deputy District Attorney Kathryn Francis, with former Assistant District Attorney Ron Wolfson assisting her in court, called on psychiatrist Dr. Eric Raimo of San Diego to refute Shipko’s testimony.
Raimo is an expert in alcohol and drug use disorders, according to his resume and medical studies posted on the Internet.
Closing arguments in the case are slated to begin Thursday or Friday, Newell said, after which the jury will deliberate.
To contact Staff Writer Robyn Moormeister, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 477-4236.
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