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Posted by John S. Hausman | The Muskegon Chronicle
July 22, 2008 11:25AM
The newly hired attorney for the confessed killer of real-estate agent Troy Vanderstelt is considering an insanity defense for his client, based on the purported interaction of prescription drugs the defendant allegedly was taking.
Attorney David R. Justian raised the issue in preparation for a civil hearing Monday afternoon. Accused murderer Robert Arnold Johnson hired him last week as his attorney in both the criminal and civil cases.
The case was a wrongful-death lawsuit by the victim’s estate against Johnson, filed shortly after Johnson’s arrest. As part of that lawsuit, Vanderstelt’s family, represented by attorney David P. Shafer, was seeking to keep Johnson’s assets frozen.
Muskegon County 14th Circuit Judge William C. Marietti granted that request. Without objection from Johnson’s attorney or family, on Monday he ordered that an escrow account be set up under Shafer’s control. All of Johnson’s assets are to be placed in that account, and his monthly Social Security and pension payments are to go into it.
Marietti also ordered that $60,000 that Johnson’s daughter, Dawn Miesch, withdrew from Johnson’s bank account on the day of the killing be placed in the escrow account. Neither Justian nor Miesch, who was in court Monday, objected.
Shafer, on behalf of the Vanderstelt family, agreed that the account could be used to pay basic monthly expenses to keep up Johnson’s Coolidge Road property, such as utility bills and property taxes. Also agreed to were attorney fees for Justian not to exceed $35,000, with $15,000 to be paid immediately.
“We’re very pleased,” Shafer said after the judge issued a preliminary injunction ordering the escrow account to be set up.
A 60th District Court judge last week allowed the Muskegon County Public Defender’s office to withdraw from Johnson’s criminal case because — contrary to what Johnson stated at his July 2 arraignment — he has assets enabling him to hire his own lawyer. That caused an adjournment of Johnson’s preliminary examination in the murder case from last week to Aug. 5, “because of misinformation provided by Mr. Johnson as to his assets,” Judge Harold F. Closz III ruled.
Johnson, 73, of 3030 Coolidge is charged with first-degree murder in the July 1 shooting death of the 33-year-old Vanderstelt, an agent for Nexes Realty Inc. The father of four was shot to death by Johnson, a disgruntled former client, at the Nexes office at 880 W. Broadway in Roosevelt Park.
Police said Johnson admitted the shooting after his arrest. Norton Shores Police Lt. Timothy LaVigne was in court Monday, called by Shafer to testify about Johnson’s confession to him, but the escrow agreement made his testimony unnecessary.
As part of his preparation for the scheduled civil hearing — which didn’t happen because the two attorneys agreed on the escrow account — Justian prepared a brief arguing that “the defendant’s medical doctor prescribed medications which interacted with such profound consequences of tragedy and sadness.”
In the documents, Justian contended that — based on his Internet check of drug interactions — drugs Johnson was taking can have adverse side effects including “irritability, hostility, confusion, altered consciousness, and other symptoms” of central nervous system problems.
Justian contended Johnson was taking Amitrip [sic, s/b amitryptiline – Ed], an antidepressant and anti-anxiety medicine; Citalopram, an antidepressant; Verapamil, for angina or high blood pressure; Nexium for heartburn; and Fexofenadine, an antihistamine. As supporting documents, Justian attached prescription labels for Johnson, all dated Feb. 22, 2007.
Muskegon County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Brett Gardner, who was present in court, declined to comment on the apparently pending insanity defense.