Killer claims antidepressant may have caused him to kill — (The Nevada Appeal)

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The Nevada Appeal

By F.T. Norton, Nevada Appeal Staff Writer

Convicted murderer Anthony Echols listens to proceedings Thursday in district court on his appeal for a new trial. Echols, who was convicted in 2003 of killing Rick Albrecht, now says withdrawal from Paxil may have caused him kill.

Defense attorney Tod Young testifies Thursday in the First Judicial Court on Anthony Echols’ appeal for a new trial. Young represented Echols in 2003 when he was tried and convicted for the murder of Richard Albrecht.

Paxil withdrawal may have caused a Carson City man in 2000 to shoot his estranged wife’s suspected lover to death, and the defense attorney’s failure to explore that as a theory should be enough to garner a new trial, an attorney for Anthony Echols argued before the First Judicial District Court on Thursday.

Defense Attorney Richard Cornell offered three witnesses to support the theory that Echols, now 46, was suffering from mental symptoms related to quitting the brand-name antidepressant “cold turkey” when he went to the home of Rick Albrecht on Aug. 5, 2000, and shot the Carson City contractor twice in the head.

The Federal Drug Administration in 2005 issued a recommendation that all patients “should be observed closely for clinical worsening, suicidality, and unusual changes in behavior,” when starting, changing or stopping a dosage of the drug.

Additionally, Cornell charged, defense attorney Tod Young’s counsel was ineffective because he did not object to, or ask for a mistrial when at least five potential jurors openly expressed during jury selection that they didn’t believe a gun could accidentally fire two shots. He also said the prosecutor trying the case offered up incriminating information that she didn’t follow up with testimony.

Echols contended in his 2003 murder trial testimony, and again during Thursday’s hearing, that the shooting was an accident. He claims it happened when he stood up from a chair after confronting Albrecht with a rifle at Albrecht’s Firebox Road home.

Upon questioning by Cornell, Young said he didn’t see a defense of Paxil withdrawal as feasible since Echols was adamant that the shooting was an accident.

“I rejected bringing somebody in to say Tony was mentally ill,” said Young. “The notion of him being depressed … there is a perception among the public that depressed people do drastic things.”

Young said he didn’t bring in psychiatric or psychological testimony during the sentencing phase because that would “present poor trial-lawyering to ask a jury to disbelieve your client’s (trial) testimony.”

Echols’ stepfather also took the stand Thursday to support the defense theory that Echols was not acting like himself in the weeks leading up to the murder.

Closing arguments are set this morning before Judge Bill Maddox.

In 2004, the Nevada Supreme Court upheld Echols’ 2003 conviction. He was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences without parole and a concurrent sentence of 10 years on a charge of burglary.

In the 2004 appeal, Echols argued there wasn’t enough evidence to support the conviction, but the court said there was ample evidence, including the fact Echols blamed Albrecht for the breakup of his marriage and believed Albrecht was interfering with his relationship with his son. He had also threatened to kill the victim.