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By Jennifer Portman, DEMOCRAT senior WRITER
Published: February 18. 2011 2:00AM
9 a.m. Friday
A pharmacist and expert in psychiatric drug therapy is on the stand now, discussing how prescription drug interactions may have caused Gary Michael Hilton to lose control and begin killing in 2007. Hilton was prescribed the stimulant Ritalin and the anti-depressant Effexor. Both of the drugs, said Williams Alexander Morton Jr., can cause manic behavior in people, such as talking non-stop. Hilton exhibited manic symptoms around the time he killed Cheryl Dunlap in December 2007.Hilton’s public defenders plan to call about six other witnesses today and play a videotape of his mother as part of their case to jurors that they spare the 64-year-old the death penalty.
A severe blow to the head as a 10-year-old by a steel Murphy bed, a childhood of emotional abuse and two years of taking mania-inducing Ritalin unleashed in Gary Michael Hilton a “perfect storm of violence” that caused him to start killing, medical experts hired by his defense team told jurors Thursday.
The revelations about Hilton’s past and mental illnesses were presented to jurors during the first day of testimony in the sentencing phase of Hilton’s trial. The 64-year-old was found guilty Tuesday of kidnapping and killing Crawfordville resident Cheryl Dunlap in December 2007.
Hilton, who was sentenced to life in prison in Georgia for killing hiker Meredith Emerson there in January 2008, faces the death penalty in Dunlap’s case. A psychiatric brain expert, a psychologist and a psychiatrist painted a disturbing portrait of a very intelligent man who was unloved and abandoned by his mother, suffered a traumatic brain injury and was psychologically damaged to the point that he could only maintain relationships with his dogs.”You can have very bright, crazy people,” said Dr. Joseph Woo, a University of California-Irvine professor who analyzed scans of Hilton’s brain. “He is still very bright, but he is crazy.”
The defense experts said Hilton knew right from wrong when he committed his crimes. Yet he was unable to control his impulses because of his mental defects, which were exacerbated when he began taking inappropriately prescribed Ritalin two years before the killings, they added.”If it weren’t for the Ritalin, I really do not think Mr. Hilton would have done the things he is accused of doing,” Woo testified. “He was not violent until he started the Ritalin.”
State Attorney Willie Meggs pointed out that Hilton had exhibited aggressive behavior long before he was wrongly medicated for attention-deficit disorder by an endocrinologist, who was later reprimanded by the Georgia Medical Board and fined $7,500. When was he was 14, Hilton shot his stepfather and later committed arson and assault. Woo conceded that Hilton had shown aggression in the past, “but he wasn’t murdering multiple people before the Ritalin.”
Psychologist Charles Golden, a professor at Nova Southeastern University, said that while Hilton has a 120 IQ and superior verbal and memory skills, he has the emotional responses of an 8-year-old who can’t control his emotions. Hilton, he said, has spent his life covering up for his psychological problems, which were first noted in the 1960s when Hilton joined the Army, and for which he was honorably discharged.”He basically sees life as survival,” Golden said.Dr. Abbey Strauss, a Boca Raton psychiatrist, diagnosed Hilton as having schizoaffective and antisocial personality disorders with an unresolved Oedipus complex.”There was no one in the world who gave him any love or sense of constancy,” Strauss said. “All he knew was ‘I’m not good enough for my mommy.’ “Abandoned by his father at birth, Hilton’s now-deceased mother chose her new husband over Hilton when he was a boy and never bonded with him, Strauss and the other experts testified. Hilton, who went to 17 different schools and ended up in foster care after shooting his stepfather, told Strauss he felt like a “piece of luggage” and his mother never hugged him. He considered himself a “non-being.”
After three failed marriages, Hilton turned to dogs for companionship.”I am able to love the dog,” Hilton told the doctor. “I cannot love people. My dogs to me are like children.”While Hilton was always odd, Strauss said something had to have changed to make him start killing in his 60s. He pointed to the Ritalin, which made Hilton increasingly manic.”It brought every worst quality he probably had,” Strauss said.Hiltons’ longtime employer noted that he began to see bizarre changes in his behavior starting in 2007. He was “getting creepier,” the employer said, and “talking 90 miles an hour.”On cross-examination, Meggs asked Strauss how Hilton’s efforts to cover up his crimes by decapitating his victims was consistent with not being able to control his impulses. Strauss replied: “He knew it was wrong, he did not have the shame or guilt. He just wanted to cover his tracks. He didn’t want to be bothered with it.”
The defense plans to present testimony from one more expert and several other witnesses today to argue against the state’s contention that Hilton be put to death for murdering Dunlap.Jurors began the day watching a recording of a February 2008 interview with Georgia investigators in which Hilton talks about killing Emerson and alludes to stalking and slaying others.In the video, a relaxed Hilton talks about snatching Emerson because he was broke, how she fought hard and explains that “you either kill them or you get caught.”He is matter-of-fact about the “distasteful” act of cutting off a human head. “It was dreadful,” Hilton told investigators. “All you can do is go on autopilot.” He goes on to say that he “chose to kill for money,” liked Blood Mountain, Ga., because it was good for human “hunting” and that he had a “sociopathic rage against society.” Finally, Hilton offers advice for those who may be abducted by someone like him.”Engage you abductor and make yourself a person to them, tell them your dreams and hopes and plans,” he said, adding that Emerson never told him her name. “I’d like to see who I have got, instead of a faceless person I’m going to kill.”