Shooter gets 5-10 in prison — (The Pocono Record)

SSRI Ed note: Man with clean record takes Zoloft and drinks, buys ammunition and shoots wife and brother. He is charged and convicted.

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The Pocono Record

April 9, 2004

STROUDSBURG — With a trembling voice, Eric “Ben” Gadsden told his bitter shooting victims at his sentencing hearing Thursday that he was sorry. Gadsden reiterated his claim that the anti-depressant drug Zoloft made him shoot his common-law wife and her brother in his A Pocono Country Place home in Tobyhanna on June 2, 2002, after his stepdaughter’s high school graduation party.

Monroe County Judge Jerome P. Cheslock sentenced Gadsden, 49, to five to 10 years in a state correctional institution.”What happened on that fateful day, I don’t know what happened. I’m innocent,” said Gadsden, as his adult son cried. “I never hurt nobody, never beat nobody up, never been in jail.

I’m sorry for everyone that got hurt. I don’t even remember it.”I blanked out for whatever reason. Look at this product,” said Gadsden, referring to Zoloft. “It’s destroying lives all over the country. It’s going to be exposed.”Gadsden then suggested that prosecutors were out to get him and lied about things to gain a conviction.”The defendant has never expressed any remorse,” said Assistant District Attorney Christopher Jones.”He has blamed everyone but himself. He’s blamed the medication, the police … he’s blaming me now, apparently.

He’s too proud a person to admit he did wrong.”We have two people who are very lucky that they aren’t dead,” Jones said. As far as Gadsden’s alleged mental condition or condition at the time of the shooting, Jones said, “If he’s crazy, he’s crazy like a fox. He knows exactly what he’s doing.”In January, a jury found Gadsden guilty by mental illness on two counts of felony aggravated assault. Each count carried a maximum sentence of 10 to 20 years, but Cheslock said that is too much for this crime. Gadsden was also found guilty of three misdemeanors: possession of an instrument of crime for using a revolver to shoot the siblings; tampering with evidence for flushing the spent shells in the toilet; and recklessly endangering another person.But he was not convicted of the two most serious charges against him.

The jury was undecided on whether or not Gadsden attempted to kill his common-law wife, Sharon Smith, meaning the county’s district attorney’s office could try Gadsden again on that felony attempted homicide charge. Gadsden was found not guilty of attempted murder for shooting Smith’s brother, Leroy Smith, in the leg three times.”You not only hurt me, you hurt our families,” said Sharon Smith. “I’m still taking medication five times a day because of this. I have done nothing to deserve this.”

Leroy Smith said he’s in the military and can’t run as fast or for as long as he could before being shot in the leg.” Every winter my leg hurts. I’m the innocent one. I was caught in the middle.”Gadsden’s new attorney, Brian Gaglione, asked for a continuance on the sentencing hearing Thursday to get “caught up to speed” on the case. Gaglione was appointed last month after Gadsden no longer wanted William Sayer.

Gaglione also wanted another psychological evaluation to see if Gadsden is competent enough to go on with sentencing.

Cheslock said Gaglione had enough time to familiarize himself with the case and it was too late for Gadsden to be evaluated.

During Gadsden’s trial, Sayer argued that Zoloft made Gadsden a different person.

Several witnesses said he acted strangely since using the drug.Witnesses say Gadsden was enraged that the father of his stepdaughter showed up at his house for her high school graduation party on June 1, 2002.Gadsden says he drank alcohol and took a Zoloft that night and woke up at — a.m. on June 2 and took another Zoloft. A few hours later he drove to Wal-Mart and bought ammunition.

Shortly after 9 a.m., he shot his common-law wife and her brother, who was staying over. He then threatened to kill himself, but his stepdaughter talked him out of it.


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Defendant in double shooting may claim ‘diminished capacity’

By WILLIAM DOOLITTLE, Pocono Record Writer,

STROUDSBURG ? When Eric “Ben” Gadsden shot his common-law-wife and her brother at the graduation party for his step-daughter in A Pocono Country Place last year, his judgment was severely impaired by alcohol, an anti-depressant and sleep loss, according to three doctor’s who examined him. As a result, he suffered from a diminished capacity to understand his actions, defense attorney William Sayer said. Sayer argued Friday that Gadsden might assert a “diminished capacity” defense that is more commonly used in homicide trials. Gadsden, 48, a former prison guard in Arizona and a Greyhound bus driver, is accused of shooting Sharon Smith, 37, in the chest and her brother, Leroy Smith, in the leg. Both victims recovered. Enraged because the biological father of his step-daughter, Krista Smithen, 17, showed up at her graduation party in the Tobyhanna development, Gadsden opened fire on Krista’s mother and her brother. He is being held in Monroe County Correctional Facility on $75,000 bail, charged with two counts of attempted murder. His trial is scheduled for this month. Assistant Public Defender Sayer said Friday he wants to present evidence at trial that Gadsden did not have the mental or emotional capacity to form the specific intent to kill. Sayer explained that the state must prove his client intended to kill in order to make the attempted murder charges stick. Michael Mancuso, assistant Monroe County District Attorney, argued before Monroe County Judge Jerome P. Cheslock that the diminished capacity defense was only available in murder cases. Sayer told Cheslock that Gadsden was “acutely psychotic” when the shootings occurred and asked Cheslock to allow him to present doctor’s testimony at the trial regarding his client’s condition. Cheslock reserved decision on the matter. Psychiatric reports on Gadsden’s mental state note that the shootings appeared to be out of character for the defendant, who had no prior criminal record. Dr. Richard Fischbein’s report said Gadsden felt his common-law wife’s ex-husband did not belong at Krista’s graduation party because he had done little to support her or bring her up. The doctor’s report said that Gadsden believes the ex-husband is now living with Sharon Smith. Fischbein said Gadsden told him he thought at the time that Sharon Smith was siding with her ex-husband and against him. Gadsden said he was reading the Bible on his porch and drinking wine before the shootings. He told doctors he doesn’t firing the weapon. “Somehow he shot his wife,” Fischbein’s report states. She was grazed in the chest and his brother-in-law, Leroy, was hit in the leg. When police arrived, Krista Smithen was soothingly talking with her distraught step-father and persuaded him to give up the gun. Fischbein said it was clear to him that Gadsden’s “intent was not to kill his wife, or his brother-in-law.” The doctor said Gadsden’s mental illness “played a significant role in impairing his judgment …” Krista Smithen talked Gadsden out of shooting himself and persuaded her step-father to give her the gun while police waited outside. The 17-year-old’s actions may have saved her step-father’s life and possible injury to officers from the Pocono Mountain Regional Police, who were called to the scene by a neighbor. Both Sharon and Leroy Smith fled the house while Smithen, hearing the shots, entered the residence and disarmed her step-father. When police arrived, she brought the Sturm Ruger .357 Magnum out of the house, sat on the ground and put the gun down beside her.