SSRI Ed note: Within 2 weeks of starting Zoloft, woman is psychotic, kills 2 children, attempts suicide. Doc trots out of med not taking effect yet. It took effect alright.

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Rocky Mountain News (CO)

July 2, 1998

Author: Sue Lindsay, Rocky Mountain News Staff Writer

Note: Ann Tracy, Ph.D., Executive Director of the International Coalition for Drug Awareness, confirmed that this woman was taking Zoloft at the time of the slayings.

[]A deeply depressed Lakewood homemaker who killed her two small children last spring was committed to the state mental hospital Wednesday.

Undisputed reports from two psychiatrists led Judge Ruthanne Polidori to conclude after a one-hour trial Monday that Bethe Feltman was insane when she killed 3-year-old Benjamin and 3-month-old Moriah on April 9. Feltman had waived her right to a jury trial.

Bethe Feltman told psychiatrists she believed killing her two children and herself was the only way to escape the depression that had gripped her since her baby daughter was born.

Many women suffer some degree of depression following childbirth, but few become as psychotic as Feltman, experts say. Such depression has been successfully used as a legal defense in cases nationwide.

Polidori, a Jefferson County District Court judge, found Feltman innocent by reason of insanity and ordered her committed until doctors determine she no longer is a danger to herself or others. That could be next month or next decade.

Feltman, 32, wiped tears from her eyes when the judge read the murder charges against her, but otherwise showed little reaction.

The court-appointed psychiatrist testified Feltman panicked after she methodically killed her two children, and wanted to reverse what she had done.

“She said she began running between the two, thinking that Ben would wake up,” Dr. Karen Fukutaki said.  “She didn’t want the children to be dead. She wanted to stop and couldn’t stop. Once she formulated the plan, she began to feel less hopeless.

“But now she felt the plan had taken her over. Part of her couldn’t believe she actually had put the plan into effect.”

“This is clearly the case of a person who was extremely ill,” said Dave Thomas, Jefferson County’s district attorney.

“She was very psychotic the day she killed her children. There is no motive in this case other than that she was a very sick human being.”

Defense attorney Craig Truman said Feltman “by all accounts was a wonderful teacher and mom before being struck down by this terrible disease.

“Bethe is confident she can get better. Wade’s gonna hang in there and this family will heal,” Truman said.

Wade Feltman, her husband, left the courtroom without comment. But during a brief statement in court, he thanked the district attorney for treating his family with compassion and working with his attorney “in what is normally an adversarial relationship.”

Fukutaki and Dr. Seymour Sundell, the psychiatrist hired by the defense, agreed Bethe Feltman was psychotic and severely depressed after the birth of her second child in January.

The doctors said Feltman was legally insane when she killed the two children after Wade Feltman went to work.

Bethe Feltman had been hospitalized three times for severe postpartum depression since January and was released three days before she killed her children. Fukutaki said Feltman was released April 6 even though she still showed signs of psychosis.

Although psychiatric drugs were prescribed, the doctor said it would take at least two weeks for anti-depressants to become effective.

Feltman told her psychiatrists that she feared being sent back to the hospital after learning April 8 of a doctor’s appointment her husband arranged for April 10.

“She wanted to be home with her family for Easter,” Fukutaki said, adding that Feltman told her “I was petrified.”

Feltman said she didn’t sleep the night of April 8. “She said she thought all night about how she could end this vicious cycle,” Fukutaki said. “She felt overwhelmed by having two children to care for. She thought if the children were dead, she wouldn’t go back to the hospital.”

When Fukutaki asked her why she didn’t just kill herself and not the children, Feltman told her she “didn’t want the children to grow up without a mother.”

Soon after her husband left for work at about 8 a.m., Feltman said she began feeding anti-psychotic drugs and cough syrup with codeine to Benjamin. She played with him until he fell asleep about 11:30 a.m. and then fed the cough syrup to Moriah.

After checking to be sure Benjamin remained asleep, she put a plastic bag over his head and held it tightly around his neck until he stopped breathing. After taking overdoses of drugs herself, she suffocated Moriah the same way.

Feltman said she phoned her husband at about 3 p.m.  “She said she feared she wouldn’t be dead yet, so she suggested he work late,” Fukutaki said.

Although Feltman can be treated, Fukutaki said that when she recovers an even greater depression may emerge once she realizes what she has done.

Feltman’s family and friends embraced as the hearing ended.

“We’re relieved,” said her friend, Laurie Sellden.  “She needs the help of a professional and now she will get it.”

Thomas said prosecutors would continue to investigate the circumstances that led to the tragedy.

“This is a courthouse that is not happy today,” he said.  “There are two children whose lives are over. As a public servant and as a human being, I’m very concerned about that and how this, hopefully, can be prevented in the future.”

Record Number:  9807030062