Judge says Prozac factor in teen murder
WINNIPEG - A Manitoba judge says a Winnipeg teen was driven to fatally stab another teen due to the adverse effects of an anti-depressant drug.
Provincial court Judge Robert Heinrichs agreed to keep the case in youth court, where the male youth now faces a maximum sentence of just four more years behind bars on the charge of second-degree murder.
Heinrichs said Friday the use of Prozac resulted in “unique circumstances” which he was forced to consider.
He described how the youth, who was 16 at the time of the stabbing in 2009, went from a loving, happy-go-lucky kid to a dark, depressed drug abuser who began to act out violently and even tried to harm himself on several occasions.
Heinrichs said it’s clear the youth's parents did the right thing in bringing their concerns to his various doctors, but they were largely ignored and the drug's dosage was increased.
Since his arrest, the youth is now clean of all drugs, has expressed remorse for his actions and greatly reduced his risk to the public.
“His basic normalcy now further confirms he no longer poses a risk of violence to anyone and that his mental deterioration and resulting violence would not have taken place without exposure to Prozac,” Heinrichs said in a written decision.
“He has none of the characteristics of a perpetrator of violence,” said Heinrichs. “The prospects for rehabilitation are very good.”
Court heard the boy had no prior criminal record and was prescribed Prozac three months prior to the deadly attack.
Psychiatrist Dr. Keith Hildahl testified earlier this year that some studies have linked Prozac with behavioural and emotional changes in young users.
Defence lawyer Greg Brodsky called an expert witness who has testified in numerous high-profile cases across North America in which killers were taking anti-depressant drugs.
Dr. Peter Breggin, a New York-based psychiatrist, told court the teen’s use of Prozac likely meant the teen wasn’t in full control of his actions.
The Crown wanted him raised to adult court, where he would have received a mandatory life sentence with no chance of parole for at least seven years.
Formal sentencing will take place on Oct. 4.
The family of the victim, 15-year-old Seth Ottenbreit, jeered when they heard the boy will be sentenced as a youth.
Seth died of a single stab wound to the stomach in September 2009 at the accused boy's home.
Dozens of family members and friends filled the courtroom Friday afternoon, shortly after they paraded in front of the Law Courts with signs and posters showing Seth's body in his casket.
Donna Noble, Seth's mother, called the accused a “cowardly murderer” and says she wanted to call attention to the relaxed attitudes to punishing young offenders.
“I wanted to stand up in court and yell, ‘How dare you let him be charged as a youth?’” Laura Martin, whose daughter went to school with Ottenbreit, said outside court.
Seth and a friend were at the accused's home and got into an argument with the accused’s younger brother. Seth shoved the boy, causing a chair to fall over and leave a mark on the new floor, court was told.
The accused wasn’t home at the time but got angry when he found out what happened. He then invited Seth and his friend to return to the home and when they did, he pulled out a knife from under a blanket and stabbed him once in the stomach while they all stood in the garage.
(Winnipeg Free Press)
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