Original article no longer available
By Howard Pankratz, Denver Post Legal Affairs Writer
Friday, January 31, 2003
The Colorado Court of Appeals on Thursday threw out a child- abuse conviction because a jury gathered information about a controversial antidepressant – in disregard of a judge’s order.
The decision came in the case of Deborah L. Wadle, a Colorado Springs grandmother convicted of child abuse resulting in death after her 4-month-old stepgrandson died in March 1999.
Wadle’s attorney, Dennis Hartley, said he was convinced the jury’s decision to ignore a judge’s order and independently look into the antidepressant Paxil resulted in the guilty verdict.
During her trial, a prosecution witness testified the boy died from shaken baby syndrome. Wadle testified that she had taken Paxil for two years to relieve holiday-related stress and was taking it on the day of the alleged abuse. Wadle was sentenced to 16 years, the minimum term. Hartley said he will ask that she be released from prison pending a new trial.
Paxil is a member of a family of antidepressant drugs known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, which some critics claim make people violent and suicidal. Drug manufacturers deny that.
Shortly after the El Paso County District Court jury began its deliberations in the Wadle case, a juror who had training as an emergency medical technician told other jurors that Paxil was a very strong drug used for people who are anti-social, violent or suicidal.
The jurors sent a note to the judge asking why Wadle was prescribed Paxil and requested a copy of a Physicians’ Desk Reference. District Judge Peter Booth replied that no reference materials could be supplied to the jury. However, that night, a juror went onto the Internet and obtained information about Paxil. The juror read the information to the jury.