One of the few things I have enjoyed during my long years in the Department of Confinement has been listening to two Christian FM radio stations while working out on the rec yard – Joy FM (90.5 FM) and Equip FM (91.7 FM). The mission of Joy FM is “to Create and Deliver Experiences That Inspire People to Live Passionately for Jesus Christ.” Equip FM is on the air “to glorify God, to proclaim salvation in Jesus Christ, and to encourage and equip His church for ministry through expository Bible teaching and Christ-centered music.” I am unable to pick up any AM or FM stations in the prison pod, so I look forward to hearing music on the yard. If there are sermons or other programs I’d rather not hear, I switch back and forth between them, or go to the best song available on other stations – preferably folk, pop, rock, metal, country or classical. One of the things I like least is the inane banter of morning show hosts, which often entails mindless, humorless yacking. It’s as if they are given a pill to make certain they are sufficiently superficial, and neither clever nor witty.
Two of the biggest yackaholics were the former morning co-hosts of Joy FM – Michael and Erica. As a radio couple, they unsuccessfully attempted to outdo Kathy Lee and Regis with their koffee klatsch oversharing and banal chatter. Happy, sappy talk. I would either turn them off or grit my teeth until they finally played a song. Erica had a penchant for telling stories involving what I call emotional hangnails and spiritual owies. For example, she had to, gulp, face all the dirty dishes in the sink, or comfort her crying child! Erica complained and Michael sympathized, while listeners in prison, like myself, would have given anything to have to deal with and handle such mild, low stress “problems” in the free world! I fantasized that someone would consider exchanging their tempests in teapots and thimbles for the relentless, malignant, unsolvable problems in prison for, say, a decade or two – or three. Somehow I don’t think they would, and I can’t blame them for not wanting to. One morning on Joy FM there was no Michael and Erica. They had been summarily dismissed by their station managers. I speculated about the reason(s), but none were given.
Michael and Erica were replaced by another Christian couple not married to each other, Mike and Megan. What a breath of fresh air! Their inevitable personal sharing was much more succinct and spiritual in content. And they played more music! It was the best of both worlds. One observation, however, remained true about both Joy FM and Equip FM. In complete contrast to the unmistakably clear biblical teachings in Matthew 25:31-46 and Hebrews 13:3, only one station manager from Joy FM on one occasion during well over six years of listening acknowledged – in one sentence – that there are people in prison. So, it’s entirely understandable that radio advertisements, programs and commentaries are not made with prisoners – Christian or otherwise – in mind.
Here are a few instances when radio spots on Joy FM did not quite connect with their listeners in prison. In spite of this I will try to connect with them. One presumptive advertisement started out with the line, “You lost your keys.” Boy, did I ever, I responded internally. In fact, my state – and country – lost my keys for me by throwing them away! And, barring a legal and/or spiritual miracle, I don’t think I’ll be finding them again until July 9, 2035. Here’s another. A feminine voice came on the air in a summertime spot, sighing contentedly, “Ahhh…” She said, “Think of the summer memories that melt your heart.” So I did. I thought, why stop with memories that melt only your heart, when in prison in Virginia without air conditioning, we’ve got summer memories that melt our entire bodies? Why focus on nostalgic, sentimental, sweet, heart melting memories when every part of us – hearts included – are baking, steaming, broiling, and yes, melting. We’re just a sittin’ and a sweatin’ all day – and all night – long, ’til summer’s over. Ahhhh!
It was recommended to listeners who might be feeling discouraged to “Think about something you did well today.” So I did that, too. At that point in my action-packed, meaningful, productive prison morning, I recalled exactly what I had done well. I had stood in line for 1 ½ hours to receive my prison commissary purchases. I had also folded my cheap, state-issued clothing pretty well when it came back from the prison laundry. I felt better already! And this. “All it takes,” the voice said, “is a couple of clicks of your mouse, and you can download your Joy FM apps.” Prisoners don’t exist in the Department of Computers. Technological advances are unobtainable. However, we did have a mouse in our prison pod last week. All it took was a couple of clicks, and it was as dead as we felt inside.
There was one morning when Megan must have channeled her inner Erica. She had never done it before – or since. But that morning I could swear – even though Jesus said not to – that I was listening to the Michael and Erica show one last time. I stood transfixed, hardly believing what I was hearing. Five – or was it fifty-five – minutes later, I had heard the tiniest true tale of an emotional hangnail and spiritual owie since the new and improved Mike and Megan show hit the airwaves. I wondered, with all her emotional distress and spiritual anguish, if I could please, pretty please, just trade Megan’s experience of censure and judgment for my own. Can I? No, I guess not…. I don’t recall all the upsetting details of her terrible story. But, it went something like this. Megan drove to a grocery store to buy a few items. Lo and behold, she ended up with more things than she originally intended to purchase, as sometimes happens in life. Without realizing how many things were in her cart, Megan absentmindedly placed them in the express lane. Ten items or less. A woman behind her in line, with only a few things, fussed and fumed at Megan for having the unmitigated gall and the unparalleled chutzpah to buy so many groceries in an express lane. Oh, the absolute effrontery, and the impudent audacity! How could she have accidently done such a dastardly deed to the woman next to her in line? A woman who had expressly followed the rules!
As you can imagine, when Megan came to her senses and realized the full brunt of her colossal mistake, she turned fifty shades of red and a whiter shade of pale. She felt mortified beyond belief and too embarrassed to say a word. Megan paid for her items, struggling with the depths of her unintentional social sin. She got in her car and drove home, knowing she should have profusely apologized for her inadvertent, unacceptable actions. Megan had to live with what she had carelessly – but not callously – done. Possessing a rather over scrupulous, Jesuit-type conscience, Megan berated and upbraided herself. She also felt the monumental weight of the woman’s righteous indignation and judgment. In fact, Megan started her distressing story by pointedly asking the question, “Have you ever been judged by someone standing next to you?” As a matter of fact, I have been judged by someone sitting, if not next to me, then fairly close by. Once again, as a prisoner in America, I can’t quite relate to Megan’s heartfelt story. Nevertheless, this is my imperfect attempt to connect with what she experienced that day. You be the judge – of whether or not I was successful.
My judge was a bit different than the woman in the checkout line that Megan had to face. Her judge didn’t say anything. She also wasn’t wearing solemn, black robes, wielding a wooden gavel, or holding Megan’s future in her hands. The name of my judge was David H. Beck. He was the Circuit Court Judge of Spotsylvania County in the Commonwealth of Virginia (now retired). Over the years I had read in the Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star about a number of legal cases that Judge Beck had tried directly from the bench or conducted with juries as the triers of fact. The jurisdictions in and around Spotsylvania County, including Fredericksburg City, and Stafford, King George, Orange and Culpeper Counties, are politically conservative. In fact, there was a Circuit Court judge in Stafford County who openly bragged about the incredible total number of years he had sentenced people to in his court. In sharp contrast, I observed that Judge Beck had a sentencing pattern, even with convicted defendants who had committed serious offenses, of giving long sentences, but suspended most of the prison terms, in order to give people a second chance to redeem themselves in society.
When I was incarcerated at the Rappahannock Regional Jail in 2009, I spoke at length with a man who seemed to know a great deal about Judge David H. Beck. I had no independent way to corroborate this specific information. However, it was interesting to discuss the alleged background of Judge Beck, especially since I had not disclosed to him that my legal case would be adjudicated by none other than the Honorable David H. Beck. Despite the absence of any way to independently verify the veracity of the inmate’s statements, he nevertheless offered an intriguing back story. He told me that Judge Beck’s son was a drug dealer who had received several legal slaps on the wrist for offenses that would have imprisoned others, until he was convicted of being a “drug kingpin” and sentenced to over 20 years in prison. The garrulous inmate went on to inform me that Judge Beck had been a successful defense attorney before being appointed to the bench in Spotsylvania County.
The inmate, whose name I can’t recall, described David Beck as a fair-minded judge who was not reactionary and retributive, like several of his local judicial peers. In fact, he said Judge Beck had raised the hackles of the police department and prosecutors for his supposed leniency toward defendants. I was well aware of Judge Beck’s moderate, second chance rulings. However, I knew nothing about the two criminal cases he discussed next. He told me in detail about a man who had physically abused and threatened his wife. He said that Judge Beck had been restrained in sentencing the defendant, giving him opportunities to change his behavior. Eventually, the man kidnapped and killed his wife. The inmate then brought up a second case under Judge Beck’s judicial authority. It involved a man who had a three year incestuous relationship with his teenage daughter, beginning when she was 14 years old. He told me the police, prosecutors and the community were outraged when Judge Beck suspended most of the man’s long sentence, requiring him to serve only a few years in prison.
The informative inmate disclosed that Judge Beck received a great deal of criticism and pressure following these two controversial legal outcomes. He thought that David Beck’s continued judicial appointment was called into question. The final comment by the inmate was that he believed
Judge Beck had undergone a philosophical and judicial “change of heart” – becoming much harsher on convicted defendants. To this day I have no idea if the information about Judge David H. Beck is true in part, in full, or not at all. All I know is that during my legal proceedings, Judge David Beck’s decisions indicated he had completely left his moderate past behind and legally reinvented himself by transforming into what I call a “BAHJ” – a “Born Again Hanging Judge.” This is what it was like to be judged by someone sitting not far from me.
There is a revealing quote about the American criminal justice system from Sue Grafton, the recently deceased author of the best-selling fictional, alphabetized crime series, beginning with A is for… Grafton was quoted in the New York Magazine. “I’m not saying justice is for sale, but if you have enough money, you can sometimes enjoy the benefits of short-term release.” What Grafton cleverly stated is common knowledge among criminal justice experts, defense attorneys, prosecutors, and both affluent and indigent defendants around the United States. Namely, that the presence or absence of money greatly affects the outcome of the vast majority of legal cases in the criminal justice system of America. It is no mystery or surprise that jails and prisons in the United States are crowded with men and women who either are or were indigent at the time of their legal proceedings. The converse of this statistically supported fact gets to the heart of Sue Grafton’s quote. The legal outcomes of affluent Americans are generally favorable. In court, they typically receive innocent verdicts, have felonies reduced to misdemeanors, avoid prison with suspended sentences, or are given short amounts of time. This is what I call “Justice, American Style.” Of course, the long jail and prison sentences that poor people usually receive can also be called “Justice, American Style.”
As an example of how the United States deals with indigent defendants, I offer these quotes and details from my own legal case. The specific legal issues are unique, but the court process and especially the judicial outcome occur routinely in the United States. Following 55 years of no criminal history I was indicted by a Grand Jury and charged with two very serious, intertwined criminal offenses – aggravated malicious wounding and the attempted murder of my wife of less than five months. For my family, friends, acquaintances and clients, who knew me to be a soft spoken, gentle, dedicated Christian, father and therapist; it was a shocking development to say the least. An initial overview of the forensic facts, however, appeared to justify the charges. I had recently been married, for the second time, to an intelligent, loving, affectionate, skilled healthcare professional and devoted mother and Christian. And yet, on the morning of May 26, 2009, I unexpectedly and inexplicably turned on my wife in a bizarre attack with a large rock, severely and permanently injuring her before taking a nearly fatal overdose of acetaminophen and benzodiazepines. During the attack I was in a trance-like state, in which I believed I was having a surrealistic, vivid nightmare. It was as if I was watching myself in a black and white horror movie, with several gaps in the film,. When I finally regained consciousness three days later, I asked to see my wife and oldest son. I didn’t realize that my nightmare was real, and my wife had almost died.
It took me over two years to fully comprehend and accept what I had done that day, and why it happened. My realization did not occur until after I had been convicted and sentenced to Life in prison, with 30 years of active imprisonment and no parole. When I received all my legal paperwork, including the court transcripts, I studied the record thoroughly. Although I was not privy to the conversations between the two Commonwealth prosecutors and my public defender, I discovered what happened, both inside and outside the courtroom. As distressing as learning the complete truth was, everything finally made sense. For my wife, who had done nothing to provoke such an extreme, violent act, knowing the full facts about the attack will improve neither her condition nor her daily life. However, what the local police, detectives, Commonwealth of Virginia prosecutors, and the judge assumed, and what my wife has been told – that her new husband decided, after 55 years of being a peaceful, law abiding citizen, to choose her, an innocent, unsuspecting victim, in order to become a vicious, premeditated killer – could not have been further from the truth.
I was an unusual indigent defendant in that I had a high paying professional position as a licensed mental health therapist at a Christian oriented private practice in Fredericksburg, Virginia. In early 2009, when my marriage took place, I was in the middle of a cash shortage that would havebeen favorably resolved within six months. Contrary to what Commonwealth prosecutors later claimed, I was not in “significant debt.” However, in light of my arrest, and the subsequent loss of my employment, the temporary financial situation became permanent. Because of this, I was unable to retain a private, loyal attorney to advocate, or hire a private, independent forensic expert for an evaluation and court testimony who was not beholden to the state. Learning, through direct experience, how the “wheels of justice” grind and roll in the American criminal justice system –slowly, “with prejudice,” for indigent defendants – was highly disheartening and disillusioning. Law library study and case discussions with many prisoners have convinced me that gaining access to the American legal ideals of “equality, fairness and justice” requires a steep admission fee. As a prisoner friend of mine ruefully observed, “For indigent defendants, the U.S. Constitution is no more relevant than scrap or toilet paper.” Unfortunately, inspiring ideals are far more applicable in classrooms than in courtrooms that involve indigent defendants and post conviction appellants in America.
When my Public Defender, Allen F. Bareford, discovered that I was taking two antidepressants at the same time of my completely uncharacteristic offense, he consulted with two well-known neuropharmacologists. Neuropharmacology is the study of how drugs interact with and affect the nervous system, spinal cord, nerves and the brain. Programs in neuropharmacology – sometimes called psychopharmacology – focus on determining the clinical uses and affects of drugs that impact brain neurons. The primary area of expertise that neuropharmacologists have is in understanding how psychiatric medications and their adverse side effects influence the brain and behavior. Experts in forensic neuropharmacology evaluate defendants and write reports regarding the impact that their prescribed medications may have had in causing aberrational criminal offenses. Neuropharmacologists testify for the defense in a criminal offense that the defendant was not legally responsible for.
One of the neuropharmacologists my Public Defender consulted with was Dr. Peter R. Breggin (www.breggin.com) of Ithaca, New York. Dr. Breggin wrote to Allen Bareford about Prestiq (Desvenlafaxine), the primary antidepressant I was taking during the spring of 2009. “Prestiq is a newer antidepressant that is associated with the production of suicidal behavior, aggression, hostility and mania (documented in the FDA approved label). The available records [concerning my medications and criminal offense] indicate the need for further evaluation by an expert concerning the effects of antidepressants on behavior. Indeed, most psychiatrists lack a thorough knowledge of the effects of antidepressants on behavior. As a psychiatrist with a subspecialty in clinical psychopharmacology, I am the author of numerous peer-reviewed scientific articles dealing with these specific issues.” Dr. Breggin had been subpoenaed to testify for the defense in over 100 court cases as an expert witness when severe, adverse side effects of psychiatric drugs, oftentimes antidepressants, caused an involuntary intoxication leading to a criminal offense.
The other neuropharmacologist my Public Defender contacted was Jonathan J. Lipman, Ph.D., of Nashville, Tennessee. In his letter to Allen Bareford, Dr. Lipman wrote about both Prestiq and Trazodone. “Prestiq (desvenlafaxine) is a selective serotonin/norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (an SNRI) approved for major depressive disorder….[Side effects include aggressiveness, akathisia (psychomotor restlessness), agitation, anxiety, insomnia, irritability, hostility, mania, hypomania, impulsivity and panic attacks. Trazodone, the other drug you advise your client was taking, is a cycle antidepressant loosely related to the tricyclics, which has likewise carried ‘Black Box Warning’ regarding suicidal behavior…..Trazodone also interacts with the SNRI drugs, such as the desvenlafaxine your client was prescribed, insofar as both in common act through serotonin. Although this interaction may have been therapeutic, beneficial actions, those adverse effects mediated by serotonin may be increased in severity.” In fact, I read later that because of the potential for multiplying the negative, severe side effects, taking Prestiq and Trazodone simultaneously is medically contraindicated. Dr. Lipman also stated this. “When a patient suffers an adverse psychotoxic effect due to a drug prescribed by their physician, the issue of involuntary intoxication may pertain, depending in part on whether the patient had been warned of the likelihood of such effect.” I was not warned.
The first psychiatric symptoms I experienced in early 2009 were anxiety and insomnia. For this I was prescribed 100mg Trazodone by a physician at a walk-in clinic in Fredericksburg. After the anxiety and insomnia deteriorated into a clinical depression, I attempted to meet with the psychiatrist I consulted in 2006 for a previous episode, Murray Cohen, MD. Dr. Cohen’s caseload was full, so I made an appointment with my primary care physician, Richard J. Ameen, MD. Dr. Ameen initially prescribed 60 mg. Cymbalta, the antidepressant Dr. Cohen had used effectively. This time the Cymbalta had no therapeutic effect. Instead of increasing the dosage level of Cymbalta, which had worked so well previously, Dr. Ameen chose to prescribe Prestiq, first at 50mg, then at 100mg on May 13, 2009. This quote is from the medical note in the office of Dr. Richard Ameen. “ASSESSMENT: The patient’s depression has not changed. Will increase medical dosage, will add medication to current regimen for better control. MEDICATIONS: PRESTIQ, ORAL TABLET 24 HR 100 MG, 1 tab po qd, 90 Dispensed, 3 fills, status: CONTINUED, 5/13/2009.” Less than two weeks later, on May 26, I experienced the severe reaction that resulted in the bizarre, disastrous attack on my wife.
My wife and I were transported to Mary Washington Hospital in Fredericksburg, where she underwent immediate surgery. I was placed in a medical coma to treat the consequences of the overdose, which eventually required a transfer to Medical College of Virginia (MCV) Hospital in Richmond for a specialist to oversee the treatment of liver failure. On the morning of May 29, I regained consciousness. However, I have no recollection of anything that took place until late afternoon that day. I discovered, from the medical records obtained after my conviction and imprisonment, that prior to becoming coherent, I had been examined by a licensed clinical social worker, interrogated by several Spotsylvania County deputies, provided an alleged confession, arrested, and brought before a magistrate! This is what the medical notes at Mary Washington Hospital (MWH) indicated. “900 Spoke with Deputy Sheriff, awaiting arrival to extubate [remove tube from my throat]; 1010 Sheriff Dept. here. Dr. Allata paged to extubate; 1030 Pt extubated; 1050 Mental Health here to see Pt, Pt able to answer name, year and place where he is; 1230 Pt lethargic. Able to communicate. Voice weak; 1240 Asking for his wife and son; 1315 Detectives in. Read Pt rights; 1330 Pt under arrest now ? [with] police sitter. 5/30/09 Prestiq 100mg PO QD DC; Trazodone PO Bedtime DC.” The May 30 note recorded the discontinuation of the two antidepressants I had been taking on a daily basis.
Shannon Fulcrod, Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the Psychiatry Department on MWH, was asked to conduct a mental health consultation on May 29. Her typed note in the medical chart stated this. “Pt is now extubated but unable to participate in a coherent conversation. Further history is unknown. Psychiatric Services will continue to follow and be involved as needed. Thanks.” In a handwritten note at 1112 am, Ms. Fulcrod wrote these additional comments. “Psychiatry F/U [followup] called to floor as pt is extubated. Attempted to speak with pt but pt is currently too drowsy to speak anything very coherently. Pt quickly falls back to sleep after name is called. Pt asking for water. Pt knows he is in hospital. Pt mumbles but cannot understand him. Spoke with law enforcement here at MWH regarding their plan. They tentatively plan to arrest pt once medically stable. Spoke with Sgt. James Konicki, Det. Kocher, Det. Blankenship and Det. Skebo. Spoke with Dr. Darwish. Pt not medically stable. Will attempt to interview pt when pt is lucid. Did explain to law enforcement that if pt is arrested and goes to RRJ [Rappahannock Regional Jail] mental health at RRJ will need to be contacted so that he can be followed there. Will return later today or tomorrow to see if pt is able to talk.”
Two Spotsylvania County detectives, Clay Blankenship and Robin Kocher, and a Mary Washington Hospital (MWH) nurse, Cheryl Corey, gave statements to the Spotsylvania County Commonwealth Attorney’s Office and agreed to testify for the prosecution. The following is taken from the Commonwealth Attorney Office’s records. “On May 29, 2009 Detective [Robin] Kocher had been advised that Kim Munson was going to come out of sedation at 0930. She arrived at the hospital at 1103 and Kim was awake and talking. She spoke to a mental health worker, Shannon Fucrod [sic] and she stated that Kim Munson had declined to talk to her and she would be back later to speak with him. 1230 Cheryl Corey, the nurse who was attending Kim stated that Kim had been asking questions: ‘He asked me to call Paul and Michael. Then he asked me, where is my wife and did I kill my wife?’ 1300 Detective Blankenship and Detective Kocher entered the room and Kim Munson was read his Miranda rights by Detective Kocher and he declined to answer whether he would invoke or not. Detective Kocher stepped to the side of the bed because Kim Munson was making eye contact with Detective Blankenship asking, ‘can I ask you a question?’ Detective Blankenship reminded Kim several times regarding his rights and warned him he could ask with those rights in mind, Munson said, ‘Did I kill my wife?’ 1347 an arrest warrant was served on Kim for aggravated malicious wounding by Fredericksburg Police Officer Mejia #353. Magistrate Sue Harris conducted a bond hearing and no bond was given.”
Officer Kyle Meek from Rappahannock Regional Jail (RRJ) guarded the MWH room after I was arrested. Meek also recorded my statements and was willing to testify for the prosecution. This is from the Commonwealth’s Summary of Officer Meek’s statement. “Upon his arrival at the hospital on May 29, 2009, Munson was speaking but very hard to understand. He asked the officer why he was handcuffed to the bed. The officer advised him that he was now in the jail’s custody. Munson asked why and when he was going to jail because ‘my partner did not tell him why the police were there.’ The officer advised him of the charge against him and that if he had any questions he would need to speak with his lawyer or the detectives. At around 1700 [5:00 pm] Munson voluntarily began to tell the officer that he was a very likeable guy and did not mean to do what he did to his wife. A nurse (unknown at this time) came in the room and witnessed Munson initiating the conversation. He further stated again that he did not mean to hurt anyone and what he had done was stupid. The officer advised him to save his energy for when he speaks with his lawyer or the detectives. Munson referred to the lawyer as ‘your partner’ and that he was sorry he could not tell him what happened. He asked if he could make a call to his lawyer and the officer advised that he could not make outgoing calls at that time. At that point Munson was able to sit up in his bed and argue about his rights and how he was allowed to make phone calls.”
It was during yet another interrogation by a Spotsylvania County law enforcement officer, Twila DeMoranville, that I finally regained my mental coherence and the return of my memory. It felt as if I was emerging from a deep internal fog. I immediately sensed that Ms. DeMoranville was doing her best to get me to make self-incriminating statements. I frustrated the officer when I told her I had no intention of making any statement to her. Twila DeMoranville replied, “I will do everything I can to see that you get as much time in prison as possible.” It was a remarkable and memorable first sentence for me to receive after emerging from incoherence! Shocked at her punitive vow, the likes of which I had never heard, I absurdly replied, “Thank you.” As she angrily walked away, I shook my head at myself and realized how ridiculous that response was. But at least I could, for the first time since I regained consciousness that morning, understand, follow, respond to and remember a conversation directed toward or initiated by me. The next thing I noticed was that the strange, compelling urge to commit suicide I previously felt had completely disappeared.
From the medical notes at Mary Washington Hospital (MWH) and the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Summary of Statements by two Spotsylvania County detectives, one MWH nurse, and one officer from the Rappahannock Regional Jail (RRJ), several observations can be made. Regarding my medical condition attending physician Dina Darwish, MD, noted the following in her report on May 29: “worsening liver enzymes,” “probable agitation,” and “may need transfer to tertiary care center.” The “Reason for Transfer” form indicated “acute liver failure.” The MCV liver specialist bluntly informed me on my arrival, “In all likelihood, you will either die or require a liver transplant.” I knew that prisoners in America were low priority transplant recipients. In addition, social worker Shannon Fulcrod recorded in the MWH notes that “the patient has now extubated but unable to participate in a coherent conversation.” The sedating effects of the medically induced coma lingered for several hours after I regained consciousness. Ms Fulcrod added that “pt is currently too drowsy to speak anything very coherently.” As for Detectives Blankenship and Kocher, they told Shannon Fulcrod that “they tentatively plan to arrest pt once medically stable.”
If Clay Blankenship and Robin Kocher had taken truth serum prior to speaking with Shannon Fulcrod, this is what they would have said. “Ms. Fucrod,”(sic) our plan is to extract a ‘confession’ from the perp and arrest him, even though he is medically unstable and mentally incoherent.” Unfortunately, May 29, 2009 was not a day for truthfulness from these Spotsylvania County detectives. Instead, Clay Blankenship and Robin Kocher could have written the detective’s manual on how to use persistence and trickery to obtain an alleged “confession” from a medically and mentally unstable subject. Robin Kocher discounted my incoherence by unethically attributing a lie to Shannon Fulcrod. Kocher stated Fulcrod said that “Kim Munson had declined to talk to her.” In fact, the medical records clearly indicate that I attempted to speak with Ms. Fulcrod but was determined by her to be too incoherent to interview. Truth challenged detectives are difficult to deal with, especially when they are on a law enforcement mission.
What unfolded was something that could be termed expert detective work, American style – a necessary part of “criminal justice” for indigent defendants in the United States. Blithely ignoring two professional opinions about medical instability and mental incoherence, Detectives Blankenship and Kocher charged into the hospital room and demonstrated how to pretend to respect a person’s constitutionally established Miranda rights while simultaneously making a complete mockery of them. Although I have no memory of what took place, the detectives revealed that they provided me with numerous, continuous opportunities to invoke or reject my Miranda rights. As Clay Blankenship told Commonwealth of Virginia prosecutors, “Detective Blankenship reminded Kim several times regarding his rights…” The detective stated, “he declined to answer whether he would invoke or not.” When I am not incoherent, I have no difficulty answering direct questions! They do not need to be repeated several times. However, in my confusion and incoherence, I was obsessed with and haunted by one – and only one – question: Was the bizarre, surrealistic attack on my wife only a horrible nightmare; or, was it actual, devastating reality? The Commonwealth summary stated that at 12:30 pm I asked nurse Cheryl Corey “to call Paul and Michael,” and “where is my wife and did I kill my wife?” MWH notes recorded that at 12:40 pm, just ten minutes later, I was “Asking for wife and son.” At that point I wanted my wife and oldest son to visit me.
Thirty minutes later, in the midst of my profound confusion, agitation and incoherence, Detectives Robin Kocher and Clay Blankenship entered the room to repeatedly Mirandize me. The Commonwealth had a totally different explanation of the obsession about my wife’s condition. They had no interest in the fact that ten minutes after I asked Cheryl Corey if I killed my wife I also asked if my wife and son could visit me in the hospital. Their explanation was a far simpler, but erroneous one. They assumed I premeditatedly intended to kill my wife, and was brazen enough to ask nurses and detectives – anyone I could speak with – if I was successful in doing so. Clay Blankenship did not need to resort to trickery to extract the “confession” they came for. I was already alternating between asking if I had killed my wife and if she could come visit me. Realizing that straightforward, repetitious recitations of Miranda rights was not leading to their desired outcome, Clay Blankenship took advantage of the need to find out what happened to my wife by proposing a deal with an incoherent man. Blankenship said that as long as I understood I was relinquishing my Miranda rights, he would allow me to ask a question. Having no interest in or understanding of my legal rights at that time, I asked the question, “Did I kill my wife?” Of course, the detectives were not going to answer that question. They were simply glad to have succeeded in soliciting the supposed confession of a criminal who had deliberately and maliciously attempted to kill his wife.
Two interactions in the Commonwealth prosecution’s statements further demonstrated how confused and incoherent I was while gradually emerging from almost three days of being in a medically induced coma following my suicide attempt. The Spotsylvania County detectives and prosecutors somehow mistakenly equated physical consciousness with complete mental coherence. In doing so, they overlooked confusion, absurdity and incoherence while erroneously assuming rationality, premeditation and malice. For example, they had no interest in discovering how preposterous it was for me to ask nurse Cheryl Corey “to call Paul and Michael.” Paul was my 14 year-old son with severe autism who had never spoken a word on a telephone. The only Michael I knew then was a teenage client at my private practice, someone I would not have needed to call, especially at a time like that. In addition, the entire “conversation” with RRJ Officer Kyle Meeks was replete with non sequitors and ridiculous comments. I still had no idea why I was handcuffed to the hospital bed. I told Meeks “my partner didn’t tell me why the police were there.” I had no contact with my colleague at the Fredericksburg Christian Counseling Center, Terry Tackett, on that day, after missing work for the first time in 17 years. I also had no defense attorney at that point. And yet I kept asking the officer if I could call “my lawyer.” Officer Meeks said I called my attorney, “your partner,” meaning that I believed my nonexistent lawyer was the partner of the Rappahannock Regional Jail guard. Not likely. However, I did say one thing that made perfect sense – that I did not mean to hurt “anyone” – especially not my wife. I later discovered two outrageous factoids in my medical records from Mary Washington Hospital. The bottom of a medical note stated my name was “XXX Munson, Kim.” My date of birth was listed as May 26, 1871. In a separate place I was listed as being 138 years old. I knew I was getting long in the tooth, but not that long. As I write this in February, 2018, I am a more youthful than average 147 year-old.
The systemic advantages that state and federal prosecutions have over indigent defendants is perhaps most evident when their defenses require the appointment of competent, independent private expert witnesses. Whereas state and federal prosecutors can simply subpoena government or private experts subsidized by taxpayers, indigent defendants must have their experts approved and appointed by judges before taxpayer funding can be utilized. And while defense attorneys cannot object to experts subpoenaed by the prosecution, prosecutors are allowed to argue in court against the appointment of any experts requested for indigent defendants. Affluent defendants, like the prosecution, can simply retain and pay whatever private, independent expert witnesses their defense needs. Because the vast majority of state and federal experts support the positions of the governments that subsidize their salaries, prosecutors generally reserve their most vehement objections for indigent requests for private, independent experts. In my legal case, Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Amy Marie Harper initially objected to any expert being appointed to potentially support a sanity defense. The prosecution objected to the only defense available to the defendant – an affirmative defense which must be proven in court. Judge David H. Beck overruled the Commonwealth attempt to preemptively destroy the defense. Judge Beck ordered that the Rappahannock Area Community Services Board (RACSB), a state funded community mental center based in Fredericksburg, supply the state forensic evaluator to determine whether the Defendant was competent to stand trial and sane at the time of the offense.
State psychologist Steven M. Dixon, Psy.D., of the RACSB was chosen to evaluate the
Defendant. After asking basic background questions, Dr. Dixon conducted a standard Competency to Stand Trial evaluation and determined I was competent. Dixon informed me that he would be returning the following week to conduct the Mental Status at the Time of the Offense (sanity) evaluation. Surprisingly, he never came back. However, skipping crucial forensic information – namely, the required interview of the defendant about the offense and his mental state at that time – did not prevent the prosecution biased Dr. Steven M. Dixon from writing a forensic report and opining about the sanity issues he did not explore. His completely unethical report, in which he called me “Michael E. Munson,” somehow concluded I was sane at the time of the offense. Dr. Dixon demonstrated his sham sense of humor when he wrote his report was “based on a thorough evaluation of Mr. Munson.” Dr. Jonathan Lipman offered this incisive critique of Dr. Steven Dixon’s sanity evaluation. “As I glean from Dr. Dixon’s narrative: Dr. Dixon states that he is unable to support an insanity defense at the time of the offense, yet it seems to my review that he did not elicit from the defendant the sort of information necessary to support a conclusion of sanity at the time of offense.” Dr. Lipman had no idea Dr. Dixon would submit to the Court his “professional opinions” about sanity based on eliciting no information from the defendant about those vital issues.
Dr. Steven Dixon was humble and wise enough to admit that, as a non-medical psychologist, he was unable to write an evaluation of the effects of two antidepressants on the defendant’s brain and behavior, especially without inquiring about these medications. As Public Defender Allen F. Bareford wrote in his “Defense Motion for Appointment of Qualified Psychiatrist with Expertise in Neuropharmacology,” “Dr. Dixon acknowledges that he did not and could not consider the impact that these medications may have had on the defendant’s ability to distinguish from right and wrong or to control his behavior at the time of the offense, as the field of neurophamacology is beyond the expertise of Dr. Dixon.” In his well-written legal motion and strong presentation in court on November 17, 2009, Allen Bareford argued that the defense needed a highly trained specialist in the field of neuropharmacology to evaluate the defendant and testify, if there was a finding that the antidepressants caused an involuntary intoxication that led to committing the offense. Mr. Bareford quoted from the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case, Ake v. Oklahoma (1985), about the allowance of state or federal funding of forensic experts for indigent defendants. “[When a] question …[is] likely to be a significant factor in his defense…[the defendant is] entitled to the assistance of a[n expert] on this issue and denial of that assistance deprive[s] him of due process.” The Virginia Supreme Court, in O’Dell v. Commonwealth (1988), held that indigent defendants must be provided “with the tools of adequate defense.” This court also ruled, in Huske v. Commonwealth (1996), that due process mandates “the appointment of non-psychiatric experts” if the defense demonstrates “the subject which necessitates the assistance of the expert is likely to be a significant factor in his defense.” The Court stated further that the defense succeeds in doing this “by demonstrating that the services of an expert would materially assist him in the preparation of his defense and that the denial of such services would result in a fundamentally unfair trial.”
In attempting to prevent the defense from having a critically needed psychiatrist with a specialty in neuropharmacology, Spotsylvania County Commonwealth Attorney William F. Neely wrote, “the Defendant implicitly concedes that Dr. Dixon’s sanity evaluation revealed no basis for a legal sanity defense…” Mr. Neely failed to mention that state psychologist Steven M. Dixon, Psy.D.,was comfortable concluding the Defendant was sane at the time of the offense without actually conducting a sanity evaluation. William Neely revealed his ignorance of the defense of involuntary intoxication when he erroneously wrote that “the entire foundation for this psychiatric expert on neuropharmacology is apparently premised upon the defense’s factual assumption that Munson somehow involuntarily overmedicated himself on prescription drugs prior to this crime.” In fact, involuntary intoxication occurs when a medication (or medications) taken at medically prescribed dosage levels unexpectedly causes a severe, adverse reaction in the defendant’s brain that results in highly uncharacteristic behavior – in this case, a tragic, violent offense. No one would charge and prosecute, let alone convict and imprison, a hunter for murder if he accidently shot and killed his hunting companion. According to the law, an individual who injures or kills someone while criminally insane or involuntarily intoxicated at that time should also not be convicted and imprisoned for their unintended offense.
November 17, 2009 was the date of the critically important showdown between Spotsylvania County Commonwealth Attorney William F. Neely and Public Defender Allen F. Bareford before Judge David H. Beck in the Spotsylvania County Circuit Court. The legal battle was over whether an indigent defendant could have $5000 in Virginia state funds released to obtain the vitally needed services of an independent, private psychiatrist with a clinical subspecialty in neuropharmacology – Dr. Peter R. Breggin, MD, of Ithaca, New York. Dr. Breggin was a nationally known forensic expert who wanted to work with the defense. Breggin had written numerous scientific articles and books about the adverse impacts of psychiatric medications, including a book that detailed many legal cases involving involuntary intoxication – Medication Madness: The Role of Psychiatric Drugs in Cases of Violence, Suicide and Crime (Griffin Books, New York, 2008). The goals of the Commonwealth Attorney were to prevent the judicial appointment of a private, independent expert and eventually obtain a pro-prosecution state medical forensic evaluator. William Neely attempted to undermine the foundation of the defense by claiming that the defendant was not taking any antidepressant medications. “Further,” Neely said, “if the defendant’s medications had impaired his behavior, this Prestiq medication cited by Dr. Breggin…then the laboratory data from Mr. Munson’s examination at Mary Washington Hospital…would have shown those chemicals in the bloodstream. They’re not there.”
Neuropharmacologist Jonathan Lipman countered this false prosecutorial assertion in his letter. Dr. Lipman wrote, “I do not see a formal quantitative toxicology report, so I do not know what benzodiazepine was present, or whether the patient was prescribed this drug.” William Neely only had access to a partial, limited toxicology screening. A complete quantitative toxicology report would have shown clear evidence of the two antidepressants that were being taken every day as medically prescribed and directed. William Neely again displayed his lack of knowledge about involuntary intoxication. “Judge, I’m sorry to interrupt, but involuntary intoxication is not a defense to these crimes, period.” Allen Bareford responded, “Judge, I beg to differ. Mr. Neely is wrong on the law. He’s talking about voluntary intoxication as opposed to involuntary intoxication.” Bareford stated that “these experts[neuropharmacologists Drs. Breggin and Lipman] have informed counsel there is a defense issue of Mr. Munson’s medications affecting his ability to distinguish right from wrong or subjecting him to an uncontrollable impulse and creating a defense of involuntary intoxication. The experts I have contacted have indicated this is an important issue, that it’s an interesting case they want to participate in.”
Allen Bareford eloquently summarized his request for a psychiatric specialist in neuropharmacology for the defense. “The appointment of the requested expert is a significant factor in the defense of this case. Denial of funds for the requested expert will make the ordered psychological evaluation in this case meaningless, consequently gutting the defense and denying the defendant the Due Process, Equal Protection and Fair Trial guaranteed by the federal and state constitutions. Specifically, the defense requires the assistance of a psychiatrist with expertise in the area of neuropharmacology to evaluate and prepare a defense of not guilty by reason of insanity or a defense of involuntary intoxication. The expert will assist the defense for cross-examination of a Commonwealth expert witness in the field of psychology and neuropharmacology and will testify, if appropriate, as an expert for the defense.”
Judge David H. Beck would decide if the defense was to be permitted state funds to retain Dr. Peter Breggin as the psychiatric expert in neuropharmacology. As is the case with virtually every indigent defendant not charged with a capital offense, Judge Beck chose to deny state funding for the expert witness desperately needed by the defense. The prosecution was permitted, without debate, to use taxpayer money to retain its private, independent medical expert, Dr. Nathan Zasler. The lack of money and systemic disadvantages that indigent defendants face in the state and federal courts enable the prosecution to dominate unfair proceedings that eventually lead to judges and juries convicting and imprisoning primarily indigent men and women. Commonwealth Attorney William Neely revealed his penchant for sardonic humor when he stated with a straight face. “This is a fair process for both sides where they put their cards on the table, so-to-speak.” He added this. “The statute [19.2-169.5 in the Commonwealth of Virginia code] clearly says the defense [for indigent defendants] does not get to cherry pick their experts. Here he [Public Defender Allen Bareford] is pointing out to New York and trying to pick an expert he’s already been in touch with and that is highly inappropriate.” Allen Bareford countered, “Just like the Commonwealth said we can’t cherry pick our expert, on the other hand, the Commonwealth shouldn’t have a hand in deciding what expert should be appointed.” This was Judge Beck’s ruling. “Of course we know we have a trial date of January 27th and 28th, so I trust, Mr. Neely, if you could prepare the appropriate order and you and Mr. Bareford determine which facility it is to do this under the Court’s ruling under paragraph B of 19.2-169.5, then I’ll enter the order immediately so that this can be accomplished. I’m not – – as I’ve said, I think we’re a step before the Ake and Huske issues at this point, or rather under statute 19.2-169.5(b).”
This judicial ruling dealt a devastating blow to the defense. Judge David Beck rejected Dr. Peter Breggin as the defense’s psychiatric expert in neuropharmacology. And, Judge Beck told the defense attorney and the prosecutor to work together to choose the defense expert! In the completely adversarial criminal justice of the United States, a state judge expected a state district attorney and a state public defender to cooperatively select the expert for the defense. A less feasible ruling would be difficult to imagine. This almost guaranteed a state psychiatrist would be chosen for the defense. In concluding that the proceedings were “a step before the Ake and Huske issues,” Judge Beck ensured the legal process would never reach Ake and Huske. His ruling prevented the defense from retaining an independent forensic specialist. The only positive element was that Judge David Beck agreed with Allen Bareford that the expert should be a neuropharmacologist. However, Beck wanted a neuropharmacologist employed by a state hospital to do the evaluation. Bareford had written in his motion prior to the hearing. “I’ve done research to try and locate an expert. I have not been able to locate an expert in the Commonwealth who would address this issue.” In the hearing he added to that statement. “It [the Court’s ruling] assumes there is someone at the state hospital who’s an expert in the field of neuropharmacology. Today, I will make calls to find out whether that is the case. If not, then I would ask to go back before the Court as soon as possible.” William Neely also agreed to return to court if a state neuropharmacologist could not be found.
Through the court hearing on November 17, 2009 Public Defender Allen Barefore had been a strong, effective legal advocate. He wrote and argued effectively and persuasively for Dr. Peter
Breggin to be appointed as the defense expert. Bareford knew that the affirmative defense of involuntary intoxication would require a strong, competent, scientifically knowledgeable expert witness. Before he contacted forensic neuropharmacology experts Drs. Breggin and Lipman, Allen Bareford had been unable to find a state employed neuropharmacologist. And yet Judge David Beck ordered opposing attorneys Allen Bareford and William Neely to cooperatively find such a Commonwealth defense expert. In his legal notes and in court, Allen Bareford stated that the Commonwealth prosecutor was not allowed to pick the defense expert. And yet, the formerly active and assertive Public Defender suddenly became passive and acquiescent at a critical time in the legal process. Instead of continuing to take the lead in finding the crucial defense expert in neuropharmacology, Allen Bareford inexplicably did what he wrote and spoke against and did not do what he promised to do in the pivotal November 17 court hearing. After Allen Bareford and William Neely verified what Bareford already knew – that there were no neuropharmacologists employed at either Central State or Western State Hospitals – Bareford allowed the Commonwealth Attorney to take over the process of selecting the defense expert without returning to court. Prosecutor Neely wrote this is a letter to Judge David Beck. “I talked with ‘Dr. Frank DeForest, who, as you know, is the most experienced forensic evaluator with the Rappahannock Area Community Services Board (RACSB) here. He coordinated with Dr. Gordello, a psychiatrist at Western State Hospital and with Dr. Niccolini, a psychiatrist with RACSB, and together they evaluated the defense motion. Dr. DeForest has now informed me that Dr. Niccolini, an experienced psychiatrist can perform the neuropharmacology evaluation as requested by the defense.”
In his astounding surrender of the defense to the prosecution, Allen Bareford waited until he signed and assented to the prosecution generated court order, also signed by prosecutor Neely and Judge Beck, to register his weak, ineffective comment, appropriately expressed in parentheses – “Seen (“and objected to as to the evaluator”).” In a telephone call from prison, I asked Allen Bareford why he completely capitulated to the prosecution by allowing them to pick Dr. Robert Niccolini as the defense expert. Bareford thought I was calling him about the legally useless appellate procedural process, but I turned our final conversation into an opportunity to confront him about his unexpected, uncharacteristic passivity and possible collusion with the prosecutor at my expense. He bristled and ended the telephone call without giving me an answer. Was there collusion between the Commonwealth Public Defender and the Commonwealth Attorney to give me up? Why did Judge David Beck reject an independent, competent, nationally known expert in neuropharmacology only to allow the prosecutor to choose the “defense expert” just three weeks later outside of the courtroom? And why, after agreeing with Bareford on November 17 that a neuropharmacologist should conduct the neuropharmacological evaluation, did Judge Beck allow the prosecution to choose a state psychiatrist who was not a neuropharmacologist to conduct a specialized evaluation that psychiatrists have no advanced training for? Having a psychiatrist perform a neuropharmacological evaluation regarding the impact of antidepressants on the brain and behavior would be like having a psychiatrist perform brain surgery! And yet, that is what the Commonwealth Public Defender, Commonwealth Attorney and Commonwealth Judge signed in the “SECOND ORDER FOR PSYCHOLOGICAL EVALUATION” on December 17.
My Commonwealth psychiatric “brain surgery” was performed by Dr. Robert Niccolini on January 7th and January 14th of 2010 at the Rappohannock Regional Jail where Dr. Niccolini conveniently worked and established a strong reputation for being gruff, uncaring and contemptuous toward inmates. This is what I told Allen Bareford’s assistant on January 12th about my meeting with Dr. Robert Niccolini. “Mr. Munson said he felt it was more an interrogation than an interview. He stated the doctor was hostile, no empathy, compassion…It appeared the doctor had preconceived conclusions based on records. Munson said he was very disappointed and the doctor seemed angry but that may be his style…Munson said the doctor seemed to be working for the CA [Commonwealth Attorney]. Stated the doctor seemed to be against him from the start. Stated his interview style and attitude were very negative. Stated he was interrupted several times and treated like the scum of the earth.” That about sums up Dr. Robert Niccolin. This was the man chosen, instead of Dr. Peter Breggin, to be the expert “for” the defense. With forensic experts like him, who needs prosecutors?
Feeling dejected and depressed, I knew my defense was likely to be destroyed by the prejudiced prosecutorial psychiatrist. All that was left to do was wait for his forensic report. Could Dr. Niccolini, who was practicing outside his area of professional knowledge, be as unethical as Dr. Steven Dixon, who wrote a pro-prosecution sanity evaluation without conducting the evaluation? This is what I discovered about the state psychiatrist’s forensic report after my imprisonment. Dr. Niccolini was allegedly quoting me when he recorded this about my mental state at the time of the offense. “I came into the bedroom and dropped the rock on her head two or three times. I asked myself why am I doing this? I knew that I hurt her.” Dr. Niccolini invented this quote! In fact, we had argued intensely about this during his interrogation-styled interview. Niccolini kept insisting, “You knew you must have been hurting her!” To which I replied that it did not seem real at the time, and I did not realize I was physically harming her. It went back and forth, with Dr. Niccolini “winning” the argument by attributing his quote to me.
Commonwealth of Virginia detectives, prosecutors, and Dr. Robert Niccolini rightfully emphasized the fact that after striking my wife with the rock, I washed my hands before hitting her one final time and taking a medical overdose. They claimed it was evidence I was attempting to “cover up the crime.” Would it have made sense to try to “cover up” a violent offense that was obviously attributed to me, then strike my wife one additional time before attempting to commit suicide? The actual truth is more complicated – and less senseless – than that. The experience of attacking my wife was like watching myself through a long tunnel, or in a rather dense fog. I had never been involuntarily intoxicated, and this description is woefully inadequate. However, in mentally forcing myself hundreds of times to reconstruct what happened on that horrible morning, I know, despite some gaps in my memory, that toward the end I experienced a brief moment when I questioned if what was taking place was actually real, and not a terrible nightmare. At that point I washed my hands to see if I could feel the water. I felt nothing. Also, I had always been blood phobic. If I could have seen the bright red color of the blood, it could have shaken me back into reality. A large part of the nightmare or movie-like feeling of the incident was that I remember seeing everything in black, white and grays only. I had also experienced other vivid, lifelike dreams – including a frightening, violent one – for two weeks prior to May 26. I read later that vivid dreams and nightmares are possible adverse side effects of Trazodone. All this contributed to my confusion, disassociation and misunderstanding of reality on that day.
Dr. Niccolini devoted only two paragraphs of his nine page report to his court ordered assignment – to explore the possible neuropharmacological impact of the antidepressants Prestiq and Trazodone on the defendant’s brain and behavior during the offense. Despite his meager observations and analysis of the medications, Dr. Niccolini revealed either an incredible degree of medical ignorance and incompetence, and/or a blatant, heavy-handed, deliberate sabotage of my viable affirmative defense of involuntary intoxication. Dr. Niccolini duly noted that Trazodone “does carry a Black Box Warning regarding suicidal behavior but not for aggressive or homicidal behavior.” However, Niccolini intentionally left out of his forensic report the fact that according to Dr. Jonathan Lipman, Prestiq also carries a FDA mandated Black Box Warning for “aggressiveness, akathisia (psychomotor restlessness), agitation, anxiety, insomnia, irritability, hostility, mania, hypomania, impulsivity and panic attacks…There is concern such symptoms may represent precursors to emerging suicidality.”
In addition, Dr. Robert Niccolini wrote this. “Re: Occurrence of Aggression: Aggression (which includes reports of violent behavior) was not reported in 3,292 Prestiq-treated patients (50-400 mg/day) during the premarketing Major Depressive Disorders studies.” Dr. Niccolini readily admitted that his only source of information about Prestiq – other than the letters from Drs. Breggin and Lipman, plus the FDA mandated Black Box Warning that he ignored – was, in his words, “Correspondence from Pfizer, Inc. Research and Education Department regarding potential side effects for Prestiq, desvenlafaxine.” Dr. Niccolini’s “neuropharmacological evaluation” consisted of briefly summarizing a pre-marketing, unscientific “study” published by the pharmaceutical manufacturer of Prestiq – Pfizer, Inc! In attempting to gain FDA approval to market their new medication, Pfizer, Inc. commissioned their own survey, which maximized positive therapeutic results and minimized severe adverse side effects. Citing Pfizer’s self-serving, promotional, pre-marketing literature for its newest psychiatric drug, Dr. Niccolini concluded that “research” had demonstrated that there were no incidents of aggression, or homicidal ideation and behavior associated with Prestiq (desvenlafaxine) among 3,000 consumers. Neuropharmacologists everywhere would have been appalled.
In contrast to Dr. Niccolini’s rosy, Pfizer, Inc. inspired portrayal of Prestiq and its allegedly non-existent adverse effects, neuropharmacologists Drs. Breggin and Lipman recorded their knowledge of severe reactions, including aggressiveness, hostility, mania, agitation and suicide. In addition, Evan Huff stated this in his article for Natural News, entitled “Study reveals top ten violence inducing prescription drugs.” “As reported in Time, the top ten list is as follows: 10. Desvenlafaxine (Prestiq). An antidepressant that affects serotonin and noradrenaline. The drug is 7.9 times more likely to be associated with violence than other drugs.” The scientific research study Huff referred to was written by Drs. Thomas J. Moore, Joseph Glenmullen and Curt D. Furberg. It was published by the Institute for Safe Medication Practices under the title, “Prescription Drugs Associated with Reports of Violence Toward Others.” The authors stated this. “In the 64-month reporting period we identified 484 evaluable drugs that accounted for 780,169 serious adverse event reports of all kinds. This total included 1,937 cases meeting the violence criteria. The violence included 387 reports of homicide, 404 physical assaults, 27 cases indicating physical abuse, 896 homicidal ideation reports, and 223 cases described as violence-related symptoms…These data provide new evidence that acts of violence toward others are a genuine and serious adverse drug event associated with a relatively small group of drugs.” Antidepressants accounted for four of the top ten violence producing medications. With Prestiq (Desvenlafaxine) ranked number ten out of 484 drugs studied for producing violent incidents, Dr. Niccolini – and Pfizer, Inc. – could not have been more wrong about this medication. Dr. Niccolini destroyed my affirmative defense with false information.
If Dr. Peter Breggin had been appointed the defense expert in psychiatry and neuropharmacology, the Commonwealth Attorney would have subpoenaed Dr. Steven M. Dixon and Dr. Robert Niccolini to be the expert witnesses for the prosecution in the areas of psychology and psychiatry-roles which they were well suited for. Dr. Breggin could have assisted Allen Bareford in tearing the Commonwealth’s experts’ forensic reports and testimonies to shreds. If Allen Bareford had not capitulated to the prosecution and had continued to vigorously advocate for the defense, he would have made mincemeat out of the Dr. Dixon’s writing about but not conducting a sanity evaluation. And, he would have thoroughly discredited Dr. Robert Niccolin’s avoidance of the severe, adverse effects of Prestiq (Desvenlafaxine) on the brain and behavior. An effective defense attorney would also have confronted Dr. Niccolini about his unscientific, incompetent over reliance upon the results of the promotional, pre-marketing survey about Prestiq by its drug manufacturer, Pfizer, Inc., instead of controlled, scientific research by independent behavioral scientists. In his testimony in court, Dr. Peter Breggin would have delineated why a psychiatrist like Dr. Niccolini was utterly incapable of conducting a neuropharmacological evaluation by demonstrating his expert knowledge of this specialized field. And, Dr. Breggin could have written a medically accurate forensic report and testified about the involuntary intoxication that ultimately caused the disastrous, unintentional violent assault on my wife.
This is what could have happened in a fair, just trial, the kind of trial that affluent – not indigent – defendants have not only the legal right to but also the ability to pay for in the capitalistic criminal justice system of the United States. But instead of having Dr. Peter Breggin as my defense expert in psychiatry and neuropharmacology, I was forced by the prosecution and the judge with acquiescence of my public defender, to accept state employees Drs. Steven Dixon and Robert Niccolini. As a result, Allen Bareford’s dire prediction came true. “Denial of funds for the requested expert will make the court ordered psychological evaluation in this case meaningless, gutting the defense and denying the defendant the Due Process, Equal Protection and Fair Trial guaranteed by the federal and state constitutions.”
With the only defense that explained why I committed a terrible but unintentional violent offense completely lost, I did not believe there was any reason to go to trial. Allen Bareford neglected to inform me that I should have gone to trial even without a defense in order to legally “preserve” for an appeal the significant issue of being appointed incompetent and unethical forensic experts. I did not receive the paperwork that proved the unethical incompetence of Dr. Steve Dixon and Dr. Robert Niccolini, or the constitutionally ineffective legal performance of Allen Bareford when he allowed the prosecution to dictate the choice of defense expert Dr. Robert Niccolini, until after my conviction and imprisonment. I was pressured by Allen Bareford and Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Amy Marie Harper to sign a plea agreement. This agreement was a legally “unintelligent” guilty plea, because I was completely unaware that my viable affirmative defense of involuntary intoxication was destroyed outside of the courtroom by the appointment of Dr. Roberty Niccolini. I would never have signed the plea agreement if I had known then that my legitimate defense had been unfairly sabotaged. On September 27, 2010, when Judge David H. Beck discounted several mitigating circumstances, including no criminal history, and sentenced me to Life in prison, with 30 years of active imprisonment, greatly exceeding the Virginia state sentencing guidelines, my legal proceedings were over. I had learned firsthand what it means to be an indigent defendant in the United States.
Legal cases involving involuntary intoxication are highly uncommon. However, the same legal process – from the police and detectives to attorneys, expert witnesses and judges – illustrates the continental divide between the haves and have-nots in the American criminal justice system. This is the stark, undeniable contrast between criminal justice for affluent and indigent defendants in America. Defendants with adequate financial resources would have readily paid for the expertise, competence and ethical professionalism of either Dr. Peter Breggin or Dr. Jonathan J. Lipman. Those experts would have thoroughly evaluated the defendant, written a psychologically and neuropharmacologically accurate forensic report, and testified, with compelling knowledge and incontrovertible evidence, in those legal cases when the defendant, because of an unwanted and unexpected involuntary intoxication, committed a totally uncharacteristic violent offense. Indigent defendants get the Dr. Steven M. Dixon and the Dr. Robert Niccolinis of state and federally paid forensic evaluators. These so-called experts use psychology and psychiatry as legal weapons to destroy the viable defense of indigent defendants in courtrooms across the United States. This is justice, American style, the kind of criminal justice system that keeps jails and prisons filled in the home of the free – and the 2.3 million unfree.
I have given it my very best shot, attempting to relate to Megan’s experience of being judged by the woman standing next to her in the express lane of the grocery store. Along with my earlier efforts to connect with Joy FM’s messages to its listeners, I suspect I failed miserably. Something I expressed earlier seems appropriate now. “It is wut it is, ’cuz it cain’t be wut it ain’t. And if it wasn’t wut it was, then my mind be filled with fuzz. And so it is just wut it is, nuttin’ else will ever be. Now I got’s ta take a break. All this thinkin’ll be the death o’ me.” Que sera, sera, Sara. Cogito ergo sum, Sam. I leave you with this FINAL THOUGHT, one you’ll never hear at the end of an unctuous, pugnacious Jerry Springer show. “Judge not, lest you be judged.”