DID DRUGS MAKE HIM STEAL? JUDGE SAYS NO JUDGE: DRUGS DIDN’T CAUSE THEFTS — (THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE)

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THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE 

Nation-World

Sheila R. McCann

8 April 1995

Within a week, Gregory S. Matthews robbed seven businesses at gunpoint. After he pleaded guilty, he sued his psychiatrist for emotional pain, financial damages and court fines, blaming the crimes on prescription drugs.   Third District Judge Pat B. Brian dismissed Matthews’ malpractice lawsuit Friday, ruling the carefully planned robberies showed sound judgment, not a bizarre reaction to medication.

“We live in a society where few people are willing to stand tall, pull their shoulders back and assume personal responsibility,” the judge said. “We are in the midst of a plague of pointing fingers.”   Matthews, then 22 and suffering from a severe obsessive-compulsive disorder, started seeing psychiatrist Glen E. Johnson in April 1991. Johnson prescribed a combination of six drugs, including Valium, Prozac and Clonidine.

Attorney Ruth Lybbert, representing Matthews, argued Johnson failed to monitor his patient while using an untried, experimental mixture of potent drugs. The October 1991 robberies occurred while Matthews was “intoxicated” by the prescriptions, she said.   “They were produced by the drugs and that’s what our expert will say,” Lybbert told the judge.

But in court Friday, defense attorney Scott Williams and the judge focused on Matthews’ calculated robbery tactics. He created a disguise with masks and silver sunglasses. Wary of leaving fingerprints, he wore vinyl gloves. He carried a loaded gun, with extra bullets in his car. He put a neighbor’s license plate on his car, and he chose businesses with low security — gas stations and convenience stores.

While drugs can cause seizures or erratic behavior, medical and psychiatric history contains no examples of a drug that makes a patient plot intentional robberies, Williams argued. The psychiatrist could not have foreseen the crime spree, he said.    And, he claimed Matthews was abusing the drugs, taking up to 12 times the prescribed dose.

Courts in other states have refused to allow law-breaking patients to hold physicians responsible for their crimes, Williams added. Utah appeals courts have not examined the issue. However, Utah courts have examined the criminal defense of “drug intoxication.”    The Utah Supreme Court rejected the defense in a 1993 ruling, upholding the murder conviction of a Washington County man who claimed he was intoxicated by Prozac when he killed a nurse.

In an earlier case, a 5th Circuit judge dismissed a murder charge against Ilo Marie Grundberg, who claimed she killed her elderly mother in 1988 while involuntarily intoxicated by Halcion, a controversial sleeping pill. Grundberg later won a secret settlement from the manufacturer.    In Matthews’ criminal-robbery prosecution, blaming the drugs worked.  Matthews pleaded guilty to four counts of aggravated robbery before 3rd District Judge Anne Stirba, who sentenced him to six months under house arrest, fines and therapy. She questioned the multiple-drug prescriptions and ordered him to report his case to Utah medical associations.

In the malpractice lawsuit, Williams noted that Matthews entered his guilty pleas voluntarily. “It is a violation of public policy to then allow -him} to benefit in any way from that crime,” Williams argued.   The malpractice lawsuit sought reimbursement for those fines and legal costs, and lost wages due to his convictions. But Williams noted Matthews was fired from a job for “hiding from customers,” not his criminal past.