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Chico Enterprise-Record (Chico, CA)
August 16, 2001
By TERRY VAU DELL – Staff Writer
OROVILLE – Did an adverse reaction to a prescription drug cause a former university football star to break into an Oroville bank manager’s home and run up thousands of dollars in phone sex charges on her telephone?
That is the question a judge said Wednesday he wanted answered before sentencing Stephen Pursell.
Butte County Superior Court Judge Thomas Kelly ordered Pursell, 33, of Oroville to undergo a 90-day pre-sentence diagnostic evaluation at a state prison.
In a report to the court, a defense psychologist said Pursell was taking the same type of anti-depressant medication which figured in the Columbine school massacre and the recent case of a Texas mother charged with drowning her toddlers in the bathtub.
After examining Pursell, the doctor concluded he “fits the pattern of an individual whose thoughts and behaviors were temporarily beyond his capacity to control” due to an adverse reaction to the medication.
Pursell was arrested in March after he admitted breaking into the Oroville home of Rebecca Castenada several times, out of anger at the branch supervisor for Sierra Credit Union over the loss of $120 Pursell said he placed into a night-deposit slot.
Prosecutors contend that although there were no bank records of such a deposit, the defendant stole the victim’s credit card and used other personal information he obtained in the burglaries to create financial havoc in the couple’s lives.
Castenada, who was in court for Pursell’s sentencing Wednesday, reportedly told police the first inkling she had that something was wrong was when she and her husband received a bill in their name for some Internet purchases which they had not made.
Oroville Police reported that over the next few months, additional credit cards were applied for in the Castenadas name, money was removed from the couple’s accounts, someone canceled their auto insurance, changed their cell phone to a more expensive plan and ran up more than $1,000 in bills to sex line on their home telephone.
Letters to the court from several relatives and friends all depicted Pursell as caring and giving. They said they couldn’t identify the young man who had accompanied a missionary couple to a Third-World country as a teen-ager with the person arrested for the bizarre series of Oroville crimes.
A former administrator at the University of Arizona wrote the court that after a shoulder injury prevented Pursell from playing on the varsity football team, he had worked for awhile as a trainer and later in a Tucson, Ariz. nursery.
He had returned to his hometown of Oroville and was being treated for clinical depression last summer when he was prescribed a series of drugs, including “Effexor,” according to his lawyer.
After examining him in his jail cell earlier this month, Kevin McCready, a San Joaquin County clinical psychologist, concluded that the defendant’s “obsessive behavior” was due to a reaction to the drug.
“While many report tremendous benefit from taking such psychotropic drugs, some persons have been shown to have a high sensitivity” to the medication, which in some cases have produced “extreme and violent reactions,” the psychologist stated.
The defense expert said Pursell told him he wasn’t motivated by revenge, but rather “he had in his mind the idea that he could prove that the bank was responsible for the loss of his deposit by proving that he could compromise the security of the bank and the bank manager.”
The defendant said his actions “make no sense to him now” and he is “extremely remorseful,” added the psychologist.
In urging the court to place his client on probation, Pursell’s lawyer, Michael O. Harvey, argued in writing that “the very drug that was supposed to help him cope with life … transformed this young man into a Mr. Hyde.”
Deputy district attorney Kelly Maloy said outside of court she was fully prepared to ask for the maximum sentence Wednesday, citing the “egregious” nature of the crime.
However, the prosecutor said she agreed with the court’s decision to obtain a “neutral opinion” in light of the defense psychologists’ findings.
(c) 2001, 2004 Chico Enterprise-Record. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Media NewsGroup, Inc. by NewsBank, Inc.
Record Number: 103121B563290AE9