Man Becomes Manic on Prozac: Later Commits a Murder — (The Providence Journal-Bulletin)


Original article no longer available

JONATHAN SALTZMAN, Journal-Bulletin Staff Writer 

25 October 1996

The Providence Journal-Bulletin

Since childhood, Dr. David A. Barrett has experienced repeated psychotic episodes and grandiose delusions, including beliefs that he was going to join the Latin rock band Santana, become a renowned author and make a fortune in real estate or as aVermont restaurateur.

Dr. Thomas J. Paolino Jr., a psychiatrist who testified for the defense at Barrett’s murder trial yesterday, said that several psychiatrists diagnosed Barrett as suffering from manic depression, a mental illness withcharacteristics that include wild moods swings.

During his manic phase, Barrett would feel euphoric, display arrogance and irritability and concoct outlandish schemes to make millions. When he was depressed, he contemplated suicide, once consideringhanging himself from a rafter with a guitar string, Paolino said.

On June 16 1ast year, Barrett, a psychiatrist-in-training at Brown University, saw the psychiatrist Dr. Nathan Epstein of New Bedford, Mass. Epstein wrote afterward that Barrett was”on the verge of psychotic thinking and decompensation,” or falling apart.

A month later, Barrett killed a man during a confrontration at an East Providence gas station.

Barrett’s lawyer, Robert B. Mann, called Paolino to testify as an expert witness to support a contention that Barrett was legally insane when he shot Joseph A. Silvia outside McCabe’s Mobil, on Wampanoag Trail. Mann also contended Barrett acted in self-defense.

Paolino began working for Mann in December. He said heinterviewed Barrett for more than 20 hours over nine sessions at the Adult Correctional Institutions and weighed his credibility.

“Obviously, the person being interviewed (in prison) has an agenda different from one who is being treated,” Paolinosaid in Superior Court. “You can’t believe everything they say.”

Paolino also reviewed written records compiled by psychiatrists whom Barrett saw since childhood. He interviewed several of the doctors, a girlfriend of Barrett’s and officials at Brown.

Paolino, who is expected to resume his testimony this morning and be cross-examined, did not give an opinion about Barrett’s condition. But he said he found considerable proof that Barrett has suffered from mental illness since childhood and was diagnosed as manic depressive by 1993 at the latest.

Barrett told Paolino that he had been depressed as long as he could remember. As a child, a physician prescribed an antipsychotic drug. From the age of 10 to 15, he saw a child psychiatrist,initially for headaches and stomach pains. The psychiatrist found that he had periods of paranoia.

While attending high school in Tenafly, N.J., Paolino said, Barrett experienced manic episodes. He would stay up all night, seeming not to need sleep.And he felt persecuted, believing other students were plotting against him.

While at the University of Pennsylvania, he experienced another manic period marked by delusions. He became convinced that Santana was going to invite him to join the popular band.

After graduation, Barrett became a researcher at the National Institutes of Health in Washington, D.C. He experienced less severe episodes of mania, called hypomania, in which he became extraordinarily productive and earned the sobriquet “Wonderboy.”

He believed he was smarter than his more experienced colleagues, which created tension, and he was paranoid, Paolino said. He concluded that his roommates had tried to poison him when he found a broken hamburger in there refrigerator.

Barrett moved to New York City. Although he had little money, he imagined that he was going to become a real estate tycoon and form a partnership with his landlord, an electrician he hardly knew.

“There’s a pattern that goes through all of his behavior,” Paolino said. “He starts with a kernel of truth and builds schemes: He’ll be the leader of a team even though the people barely know him at times.”

In 1987, Barrett was admitted to medical school at the University of Vermont.The cycles of mania and depression continued. He became convinced that he was going to make a half-million dollars as a corporate headhunter. Later, he decided he would make a fortune by opening a restaurant.

Barrett saw a psychiatrist for a year and received medication. But when his paternal grandfather died, he became despondent. An internist prescribed Prozac, an antidepressant, and Barrett entered a manic phase. He took a leave from medical school and quickly spent thousands of dollars from a tuition refund and his inheritance on musical instruments and on construction of a studio. Fearing someone might steal his music equipment, he began carrying a loaded pistol and bought two shotguns.

At least one doctor suggested that he enter a psychiatric hospital, but Barrett refused, Paolino said.

Barrett resumed his studies and in completed the program in 1992. He entered the residency program at Brown and treated patients. Still, the cycles of his illness continued. In 1993, he gotso depressed he considered hanging himself with a string from his bass guitar, Paolino said.

Barrett began seeing Dr. Alexander Vuckovic, a psychiatrist at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass. In August 1993, Vuckovic wrote that Barrett was “sufferingfrom a clear-cut bipolar disorder and is not in a position to be taking care of patients now.”

Shortly afterward, Barrett took a brief medical leave from Brown. He resumed his work after Vuckovic wrote Brown in October and said that his dutiesshould be limited and he had to get adequate sleep.

By the summer of last year, Barrett’s behavior had gotten out of control, Paolino said. He got into a loud argument with a maintenance worker outside a mental health center and spewed vulgarity,Paolino said. He rambled nonsensically around his colleagues. He announced he was marrying a woman he had just met.

In early July, Dr. Timothy I. Mueller, the director of the residency program, wrote in personnel records: “The situation seems to be becoming more serious, and action needs to be taken ASAP.”

On July 6, Mueller and another doctor told Barrett they were putting him on medical leave and were recommending a psychiatric evaluation by the Impaired Physicians Committee of the RhodeIsland Medical Society. He never went for the evaluation.   Twelve days later he was arrested in the death of Silvia.

(Copyright 1996)