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The Transylvania Times
By Park Baker, Staff Writer
April 14, 2014 | Vol. 128-No .30
Melissa Amber Dalton was sentenced to life in prison for murder, plus 26 years for assault with a deadly weapon, after a jury found the 32-year-old guilty Monday afternoon in Transylvania County Superior Court. Dalton was found guilty of murdering Richard Holden, 57, and injuring Naomi Jean Barker, then 51, on Aug. 21, 2009, at their Unity Drive apartment in Brevard.
Dalton testified Thursday that she didn’t remember the morning of Aug. 21, 2009, when the incident took place. “Barker was like my grammy,” said Dalton. “I don’t remember hurting that woman. I don’t remember what happened.
“She used to watch my oldest daughter. I would go over there after my boyfriend would beat me, and she would help me wash my clothes.” Amidst sobs, Dalton recalled the weeks before the incident, when she was admitted to the Neil Dobbins Detoxification Center, a crisis center and rehabilitation clinic in Asheville. There, Dalton said, she was prescribed two drugs: Lexapro and Ceraquil (Ed: Seroquel?), which, among other things, are antidepressants.
“Those drugs made me feel empty,” she said. “I was scared to take them because I didn’t want to feel empty.” Dalton said she is an alcoholic and has struggled with crack cocaine abuse, but was “not an addict.” “I used it when I was feeling depressed,” she said. “It allowed me to express myself and talk about my problems.”
After years of watching her own mother, Kimberly Dalton, struggle with crack cocaine addiction, Dalton told her mother that she wanted to end her struggle with drug and alcohol abuse, that she was tired of never having any money to feed her children, was unhappy where she was living and wanted to get her certified nursing assistant certificate. She was pregnant at the time with her fourth child.
Her mother drove her to Mission Health hospital in Asheville, where she was admitted, then released to Neil Dobbins as an inpatient, where she was treated for bi-polar disorder, borderline personality disorder, substance abuse and depression.
Dalton’s attorney, Tony Dalton, who is no relation to his client, suggested last week that Daniel Johnson, a doctor at Neil Dobbins, did not properly conduct a background check on his client when he prescribed her the drugs. Johnson testified the crisis center’s purpose is to help those admitted remove themselves from stressful environments for a few days and then continue treatment outside of the inpatient atmosphere.
When asked by Assistant District Attorney Doug Mundy, Johnson said he felt he had not committed malpractice by prescribing the drugs to Dalton. Johnson said he started Dalton on 5 milligrams (mg) of Lexapro to see how she would react, and after observing her, increased the dosage to 10 mg.
Johnson stressed that his job is crisis intervention, and that he never signed off on a bi-polar diagnosis. “It’s impossible to make a reliable diagnosis about a condition that a patient might have when they are on as many substances as Dalton,” said Johnson.
Johnson said Dalton had cannabinoids, cocaine metabolites and alcohol in her system when she was admitted. Dalton, he said, suffered from “substance abuse mood disorder” and that his working diagnosis was that her substance abuse was contributing to, if not inducing, her disorders.
Johnson said anti-depressants, such as Lexapro, could cause manic episodes. The defense called other psychiatric experts, including Dr. Wilkie Wilson, who is a professor of neuropharmacology at Duke University. Wilson has written books on drug abuse and the active substances found in all prescription and illicit drugs.
Wilson said there is significant literature saying it is a bad idea to prescribe these kinds of drugs to a person with bi-polar disorder, and that these drugs all have side effects and for some, especially people with bi-polar disorder, they can cause manic episodes. Dr. George Corvin, a forensic psychiatrist, agreed with Wilson. “Any doctor prescribing these drugs knowingly to patients with bi-polar disorder needs to get a lawyer, because they’ve got malpractice suits coming at them,” Corvin said.
Corvin spent roughly nine hours over the course of eight interviews with Dalton, and in his opinion, she does “suffer from bi-polar disorder.” According to Corvin, Dalton took Prozac, another anti-depressant, for one year, and the results were typical for a person with bi-polar disorder.
“She was aggressive, belligerent, and her symptoms did not go away; they got worse,” he said.
In his closing argument, Tony Dalton said his client was trying to start a new life, when her attempts to do so culminated in a “perfect storm” that led to the “unfortunate incident” on Aug. 21, 2009. Dalton asked the jury to consider that his client was a victim of her environment and suffered from years of abuse from her former boyfriend.
The prosecution team, led by District Attorney Greg Newman and Mundy, said Amber Dalton was addicted to crack cocaine and would stop at nothing to get her fix, including the murder of Holden and the attempted murder of Barker. Dalton would no doubt, Newman said, “be back at her old ways” if she is found not guilty.
Newman said the testimonies from the doctors were just those of “hired professionals” who were using their expertise for financial gain.
Another story about the Dalton trial will appear in Thursday’s paper.