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Psychiatrist says suicide defendant was ‘intoxicated’ by antidepressants

March 22, 2017 GMT

A controversial psychiatrist said Michelle Carter was “involuntarily intoxicated” by antidepressants when she sent text messages encouraging her high school boyfriend to kill himself, as prosecutors seeking an involuntary manslaughter conviction sought to discredit him as an “extremist.”

Dr. Peter Breggin, an Ithaca, N.Y.-based psychiatrist and outspoken critic of antidepressants, told Taunton Juvenile Court Judge Lawrence Moniz he had never seen a metamorphosis like the one Carter underwent when she texted Conrad Roy III on July 13, 2014, the night the 18-year-old took his own life via carbon monoxide poisoning.

“The stuff in the texting was out of her range,” Breggin, 80, said during the hearing to determine whether he will be allowed to testify at trial. “It was beyond anything I have ever seen before in terms of character changes, personality changes, behavior changes, attitude changes … for that brief period of time.”

Carter, now 20, was 17 at the time of Roy’s death, and the Plainville teen was being treated with the antidepressant Celexa in 2014, which Breggin said had her in a state where she could not understand the impact of the texts to Roy.

“I don’t think she had the capacity to form the idea of wrongfulness or criminality,” Breggin said, adding Carter was loved by those who knew her. “She was pretty much the most loved person anybody knew, it was stunning.”

Breggin cited interviews he did with friends, family, coaches, and others who know Carter, as well as school records, including a “Most Likely to Brighten Your Day” award she won as a high school senior — after Roy’s death.

Prosecutor Katie Rayburn grilled the doctor on whether many of his papers were written using citations from his own work and published in journals of which he was an editor. Breggin called the line of questioning “a concoction.”

Rayburn also cited a publication where Breggin is labeled a “self-described extremist” and pushed him to acknowledge he reached his conclusion about Carter using only medical records and texts between Carter and Roy, rather than interviews.

“This case is about texting between two young individuals, and that’s the most critical thing in this case,” defense attorney Joseph Cataldo said after the daylong hearing, adding he reached out to Breggin to testify because “he’s the man, he’s been doing this for decades and on the forefront of raising the alarm bell about what these medications can do.”

Asked about Breggin’s findings, some of which are challenged in the psychiatric community, Cataldo said, “He’s no more controversial than I am. I defend people charged with crimes, would all prosecutors say, ‘Oh, Cataldo, he’s controversial?’ No.”

Moniz did not immediately rule on whether Breggin can testify. The case, which is set for trial beginning June 5, returns to court April 7 for another pretrial hearing.