Teen murder suspect’s moods erratic — (The News-Review)

SSRI Ed note: Lively, upbeat teen, 14, medicated for depression, gets antidepressants, becomes "uninvolved, indifferent", murders another student, diagnosed bipolar.

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The News-Review

CHELSEA DUNCAN, cduncan@newsreview.info

September 14, 2006

More witnesses testified Wednesday about Sutherlin teen Kelly Erin Irwin’s unusual behavior before and after the 2004 death of 14-year-old Troy Alexander Anderson.

While lodged at the Douglas County Juvenile Detention Center, for example, Irwin shifted moods so quickly, the staff could barely keep up with her, said Vicki Carroll, a former juvenile services worker.

“Her moods seemed to sometimes turn kind of on a dime,” she said, speaking of the alternately depressive and “giddy” states the teen would experience.

A Sutherlin High School counselor also testified about how Irwin’s behavior had shifted dramatically her freshman year, from that of an upbeat, good student, to an uninvolved, indifferent truant.

“That lively look was just out of her eyes,” Sydney Richardson said.

Once her medications were altered a few months after she entered detention, Carroll testified, Irwin’s mood swings steadied. A psychiatrist asked to evaluate Irwin by her defense attorney had prescribed her a mood stabilizer to balance out the antidepressant she’d been taking, according to previous testimony.

Many children, just as Irwin was as a freshman, are diagnosed with depression who are actually suffering from bipolar disorder, a child and adolescent psychologist testified in the teen’s murder trial Wednesday.

The psychologist, Dr. David Fassler, who practices in Massachusetts, Vermont and New York, discussed research about the adolescent brain and how it functions compared to fully developed adult brains.

Child and adolescent brains, he said, are not fully developed in the areas that control reasoning and critical thinking, for example.

Add that to a teen with bipolar disorder and there are significant impairments, he said. Research shows, Fassler added, that even when teens aren’t in the throes of their illness — experiencing a manic or depressive state — the impairments exist.

Asked by defense attorney Peter Fahy whether such a condition would inhibit the ability to form intent, Fassler said, “It would impair their ability to make a plan to think through the consequences.”

Fahy is arguing Irwin did not intend for Anderson to be shot Sept. 30, 2004. Irwin and her alleged accomplice, Rebecca Ann Machain, both now 17, are faced with charges of aggravated murder, murder and conspiracy to commit aggravated murder, all Measure 11 minimum sentencing crimes.

Irwin, who has sat attentively throughout her trial, occasionally appeared to doodle on the yellow legal pad before her, is being charged as an adult along with Machain.

Fahy said by offering evidence of the development of adolescent brains he was not challenging the law that allows teens to be tried as adults for certain crimes.

Irwin’s trial continues today.

* You can reach reporter Chelsea Duncan at 957-4246 or by e-mail at cduncan@newsreview.info.