|Murder suspect Ckaron Handy|
Monday, February 11, 2013
Posted: Thursday, January 24, 2013
Courtroom drama was not limited to the witness stand Wednesday at the preliminary hearing for a convicted drug dealer accused in the 2006 murder of a Bristol Township father of two.
One man was escorted outside after he kept interrupting the hearing of Ckaron Handy, 24, of Philadelphia, who is accused of shooting Kevin Battista in a drug-deal-turned-botched-robbery attempt.
The Bucks County district attorney and Philadelphia defense attorney repeatedly raised objections and questioned testimony, frequently speaking over each other.
Even Handy’s mom weighed in with comments from her front-row seat in the court gallery.
But no official record of the proceedings exists because no court stenographer was at the hearing — an almost unheard-of situation — and one that Handy’s friends and family loudly complained about to Bristol Township District Judge Joanne Kline, who heard the case.
Bristol Township police had a heavy presence with uniformed officers positioned inside and outside the courtroom. Spectators had to pass through a metal detector at the court entrance.
As Handy walked into the courtroom, he looked at the family and friends of Battista who filled most of the gallery seats, then greeted his mom, Araina Thompson, by asking “How you doing?”
Before the first of two witnesses started her testimony, defense attorney Douglas Earl requested that Kline grant a last-minute continuance citing the lack of a court stenographer. Kline refused, saying it’s the attorney’s job to hire a stenographer.
“I want this (expletive) on record,” Handy yelled.
“You want what?” Kline replied, angrily.
Thompson stood up and protested that her son’s civil rights were being violated.
But stenographers are not required at a preliminary hearing in which the DA’s office must prove it has enough evidence to bring a case to trial. Defense attorneys frequently use court reporters to get a record of witness testimony that can be used in preparing a defense or questioning witnesses during a trial.
There are only a few instances where a defense attorney would not want to lock in a witness’ version of events, said local defense attorney Louis Busico, who is not associated with this case.
After the hearing, Earl said that a court reporter had not been requested.
The prosecution’s first witness, Tiffany Calvanese, who described herself as a friend of Battista’s, testified that she and Battista were drinking together on Dec. 7, the night of the murder, when they decided to get cocaine. Battista has been described by police as a recreational drug user.
Initially, they were going to seek a dealer in a nearby mobile home park, but he wasn’t around, Calvanese testified.
As they drove along Route 13, Calvanese said that Battista thought he saw a car that he saw his girlfriend get into earlier, so he followed it into the Fleetwing section of Bristol Township, where he lost track of the vehicle.
Battista was not familiar with the neighborhood, which is known for its open-air drug markets, according to police.
Calvanese testified that the two looped around the neighborhood once before they pulled up to two men, whom she described in their 20s and wearing heavy winter coats, one with fur around the hood.
Battista asked the men if they had seen the car he had been following. When the men said they hadn’t, Calvanese testified that Battista asked if the men had “powder” — slang for powder cocaine.
One of the men said he did, and Battista asked for $60 worth.
But instead of handing over drugs, Calvanese testified, the man wearing the coat with the fur — whom police say was Handy — pulled out a revolver and demanded money.
“We were both in disbelief,” Calvanese told the court. “Kevin said, ‘Are you kidding me?’”
When Handy started counting backward from three, Battista started slowing driving away and then Handy allegedly fired.
“All I heard was noise, and I ducked down,” she testified, adding she didn’t know Battista had been shot until he fell on top of her.
“I could hear him choking,” Calvanese added.
Was he able to say anything? Schorn asked.
“No,” she replied.
During Schorn’s questioning of Calvanese, Thompson continuously waived her arm trying to catch Kline’s attention.
“You have a question?” Kline said.
“Why wasn’t it objected that there is more than one way to get into Bloomsdale?” Thompson asked. Kline responded that that was a question for the lawyer.
In cross-examination, Earl pressed Calvanese on her version of events before the shooting, repeatedly asking her to explain why they went into the Fleetwing section that night and demanded she describe the faces of the two men who approached Battista’s pickup.
Calvanese, though, repeatedly said that she couldn’t provide a description beyond what she already testified to.
The prosecution’s second witness — Kyle Page, who is a first cousin of Handy’s, told the court that he was selling cocaine with Handy the night of the murder. He testified he was standing 2 feet away when Battista was shot.
“Who was the shooter?” Schorn said.
“Ckaron,” Page replied, adding that he saw the .22-caliber revolver that Handy used.
On cross examination, though, Earl asked Page why he waited so long to report the murder to police.
Page replied that he told police what happened three or four years ago.
Following the testimony, Kline dismissed five conspiracy charges against Handy, but held him for trial on the remaining charges, including homicide and robbery.
Bristol Township police said previously that Handy was an early suspect in Battista’s murder but they didn’t have enough evidence — or witnesses — to connect him to the crime. Initially, witnesses had refused to come forward, police said.
In 2009, the Bucks County DA’s office took the case before a grand jury to compel witnesses to testify, which led to the presentment that was released last year and the filing of an arrest warrant for Handy.
Less than a year after Battista’s murder, Handy was arrested on an unrelated drug charge and sentenced to state prison, where he remained until 2011.
A few months after he was released, Handy was arrested on a federal firearms charge in Bristol Township, police said.
He has been in federal custody since October on an unrelated 2011 firearms charge. He was convicted of that charge in November and will remain in federal custody until his sentencing, which was postponed Tuesday until Feb. 1.
Jo Ciavaglia: 215-949-4181; email: jciavaglia@phillyBurbs.com; Twitter: @jociavaglia
Posted: Wednesday, January 23, 2013
This is no case for the fashion police.
Khalil Bailey wanted to buy a pair of limited-edition, pricey Nike sneakers. But when he couldn’t, he allegedly stole several pairs.
He might have gotten away with it too, if not for a series of surveillance tapes showing his actions, including one showing him wearing the shoes before they were available for sale.
The evidence landed Bailey, 27, who lists addresses in Newtown Township and Cheltenham, before Middletown District Judge John Kelly Jr. Tuesday. He was arraigned on burglary, theft and related charges and released on $20,000 unsecured bail.
Police say Bailey broke into Foot Locker in the Oxford Valley Mall on Dec. 16 and stole the sneakers after he missed out on a chance to buy one of only 14 pairs of Air Jordan 11 Retro sneakers in stock. Earlier that day, the store had given away tickets that allowed the holders to buy a pair of the nearly $200 sneakers available starting Dec. 21, Middletown Detective Pat Nicastro said.
The Nike retro sneaker line is so popular that people waited overnight at the mall for the chance to get a ticket to buy a pair, the detective said. By early afternoon, more than 25 people were in line, so Foot Locker management decided to hand out the tickets earlier than the advertised 5 p.m. time, Nicastro said.
After the tickets were dispersed, Bailey — a seasonal loss prevention employee at a Sears store in the Middletown mall — allegedly got into an argument with a Foot Locker employee over the tickets being given out early. Bailey was not among the people waiting in line, Nicastro said.
The next morning, a store manager discovered four of the 14 pairs of the Air Jordan 11s were missing from the stockroom, but she couldn’t find any sign of forced entry. That is until about 10 days later, when she discovered pry marks on the back door, Nicastro said.
When the manager reviewed the store’s surveillance video, she found footage of a male breaking into the stockroom after hours on Dec. 16. Once inside, the suspect allegedly took several boxes of the Air Jordan 11 and a T-shirt — together valued at $1,186 — and hid the items in two black trash bags he had in his back pocket before leaving the store.
Another Foot Locker employee who reviewed the surveillance video recognized the suspect as the same man who had an argument about the tickets on Dec. 16, Nicastro said.
Another employee who saw the video recognized Bailey as a guy who worked at the nearby Sears, police said.
But instead of keeping the shoes out of sight, the suspect, Nicastro said, was captured on video inside the Foot Locker wearing the shoes — days before they were available for sale.
“The entire thing was caught on video,” Nicastro said. “A dopey criminal.”
Jo Ciavaglia: 215-949-4181; email: jciavaglia@phillyBurbs.com; Twitter: @jociavaglia
Posted: Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Nearly a year before a Bristol Township exterminator allegedly murdered a Philadelphia doctor, he was cited for exposing himself during a road rage incident in Bensalem, according to court records.
Pennsylvania State Police issued Jason T. Smith a summary citation March 16 charging him with disorderly conduct/obscene language or gesture during an incident on southbound I-95. Court records show Smith pleaded guilty a month later.
Court records show that Smith, 36, of Crescent Lane, “did with the intent to cause public inconvenience” make an obscene gesture by “exposing himself during a road rage incident” on the highway about 1 p.m.
Police records show the victim’s name was withheld, and information about the circumstances surrounding the “road rage” incident was not included.
Police said Smith admitted his involvement when state police interviewed him March 29, according to the incident report filed with the court. He paid nearly $300 in fines and court costs.
The non-traffic citation and a 2004 drunken driving conviction are the only two charges Smith has faced in Pennsylvania, according to online court records.
But Philadelphia police are looking closer into whether Smith is connected with any unsolved crimes in the city. A law enforcement source believes the city’s sex crimes unit and Northeast detectives are involved in that, but the newspaper was unsuccessful in reaching the units Monday.
Philadelphia police said the self-employed exterminator allegedly strangled and then set fire to Melissa Ketunuti, 35, a pediatrician at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, after the two argued over an extermination job at her Naudain Street home Jan. 21.
Smith was hired as a subcontractor for a rodent problem at the home. The appointment was the first time Smith and Ketunuti met, police said.
Smith was charged Thursday with murder, arson, abuse of a corpse and risking a catastrophe.
Police have refused to release specifics about the argument between Smith and the doctor. They did say no evidence points to a sexual assault.
Authorities said they have an abundant amount of evidence connecting Smith to the murder, including video surveillance from nearby businesses of him entering and exiting Ketunuti’s row home and his silver truck circling the block.
Smith arrived at the home shortly after Ketunuti returned from running errands, police said. The surveillance video shows him leaving the home about 90 minutes later, Wilkins said. Ketunuti’s dog walker found her body shortly after Smith left the home, police said.
Smith allegedly struck the doctor, got on top of her, strangled her with rope he found in the house and then tied her up. In an attempt to destroy the evidence, Smith set her body on fire after she was dead, police said.
Jo Ciavaglia: 215-949-4181; email: jciavaglia@phillyBurbs.com; Twitter: @jociavaglia
Posted: Tuesday, January 29, 2013
A longtime Levittown-area youth coach is behind bars on $2 million cash bail charged with engaging in a sexual relationship for the last year with one of his 15-year-old softball players.
The charges come days after a fire Friday destroyed the mobile home where Kevin Jones, 34, lived with his wife and two children. Falls police said they planned to execute a search warrant Friday morning at the Hoover Drive home looking for evidence. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.
Jones, a married father of two, was arraigned on video Monday night before Bensalem District Judge Joseph Falcone on charges including indecent sexual assault, aggravated indecent sexual assault, corruption of minors, unlawful contact with a minor and related charges. In addition to the $2 million cash bail, Falcone forbid Jones from contacting the victim.
Police say that Jones has coached for the Levittown American and Levittown Bulldogs girls softball teams for the last seven or eight years. The teen girl met Jones in 2011 at age 13 when she joined the team, police said.
The two communicated mostly through cellphone text messages or instant messaging on Facebook starting in 2011 through Jan. 13, police said. During that time, the two exchanged about 1,400 text messages, according to a probable cause affidavit.
In text messages, police said, Jones “routinely” identified himself as the girl’s father, telling her not to leave him and that he is the only man she needs and threatening to “kill” any boy she was interested in.
Police found two photos of her and Jones that depicted the two posing together “as a couple” on the girl’s cellphone.
Last spring, the then-14-year-old said that Jones started “flirting” with her, putting his arm around her and holding her hand while speaking to her. He referred to her as “baby doll” and “baby girl,” police said.
The girl, whose father is not in her life, began to confide in Jones about any problems she had, police said. In text messages, police say, Jones referred to the girl as “daughter” and identified himself as her “daddy.”
“I’ll be your dad from now on and I’ll protect you like I’m your dad,” he told the girl, according to the affidavit.
During a traveling softball tournament, Jones allegedly asked the girl to stay overnight in his room. The girl also told Jones that she knew he took pictures of her while she was sleeping.
One night after the girl visited a friend, she says that Jones drove her home. Outside her home, Jones gave her a long kiss on the lips, according to court papers. In the days that followed, the two continued kissing each other, which progressed into other physical contact, police said.
Eventually police say the two started having sex. Most, if not all the times, other people were in the house when they had sex, police said.
She told police the most recent sexual contact the two had was earlier this month in Jones’ bed at his mobile home.
“Jones and (the teen) telling each other that they love each other hundreds of times, each of which is accentuated by graphics, and contains exaggerated language such as I love you more than anything else in life,” according to court documents.
The text messages also contain “easily appreciated and understood” sexual innuendos, police said.
But the relationship came to an abrupt end, police say, after the girl’s mother learned about the alleged sexual affair earlier this month, after the girl confided in her older sister. The sister told the mother, who filed a complaint with police Jan. 9.
Police had planned to execute a search warrant seeking bedding, Jones’ cellphone and home computer when a fire ripped through the trailer shortly before 2 a.m. destroying all its contents. The family escaped; their dog was killed.
Fire officials have not yet determined the cause of the fire — which destroyed the evidence police sought. Jones and his family say it happened after the clothes dryer caught fire, police said.
In an interview with police Monday, Jones described his relationship with the teen girl as like father and daughter. He described hugging and kissing the girl, but added it took place in front of her mom and that the two always told each other “I love you,” he told police.
The last contact Jones told police that he had with the girl was a couple weeks ago when she text messaged him: “Run, my mom knows.”
Jones told police that he replied “Who knows?” Then he told his wife about the text message and consulted a lawyer who told him not to contact the girl, police said.
Jones added that he still doesn’t know what the girl’s text messages meant.
“I don’t know if she thinks I touched her, we play fight,” he told police.
Before meeting with police, the teen texted Jones and repeatedly apologized; in one text she wrote “I ruined your life.” Jones did not respond to any of the messages, police said.
Over the last two weeks, police say the girl continued to repeatedly apologize to Jones via Facebook’s news feed, telling him that she didn’t tell police about their relationship and begging him to reply to her.
She left six Facebook messages for Jones on Jan. 10 — the day after she met with police — the first one she wrote shortly before 6 a.m. and the last shortly before 9 p.m.
“I know you’re not going to answer me and you can hate me all u want. I’m sorry,” she wrote in one post at 12:01 p.m.
“I still love you even if you don’t love me,” she wrote shortly after 3 p.m.
“Will you ever talk to me again,” she wrote shortly before 9 p.m.
The next day, she sent Jones another six Facebook messages including one that told him that “nothing (is) going to happen to you for awhile.”
Her last Facebook message to Jones was posted a week ago.
“Can you talk to me, please.”
Posted: Monday, February 4, 2013
Harvard University impressed Alana Merrigan. The campus was awesome. The people were cool. She had so much to tell her parents about the trip when she got home.
The Bristol Township teen had so much to dream about, too, during the six-hour ride back to Bucks County on Saturday night. She slipped easily into sleep aboard the charter bus.
Then that horrible crunching noise above her startled her awake. The bus roof was caving in. She was thrown forward into the next row of seats. When she opened her eyes, she saw only the blackness around her.
Somehow the 17-year-old found her cellphone and called her mom, Teresa.
“The roof is on top of us,” she said.
The Bucks County Technical High School junior was among 42 passengers — including students from Middletown and Bristol Township — aboard the bus when it slammed into a bridge in Boston, hours after the group had visited Harvard’s Cambridge campus as part of an educational day trip.
Massachusetts State Police have not released the names or addresses of adults aboard the Calvary Charter bus for the trip sponsored by Destined for a Dream, a Bristol nonprofit educational foundation. The names of juveniles will not be released, the state police added.
But at Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church in Penndel on Sunday, parishioners were asked to pray for two teen boys who were aboard the bus, according to sources and the parish’s Facebook page.
The Rev. James DeGrassa told parishioners during the 10 a.m. Mass that one of the boys, Matt Cruz, suffered a severe neck injury. The priest said he had spoken to the boy’s grandmother just before Mass and learned that the teen was about to go into surgery.
DeGrassa asked the congregation to pray for Matt and he led the congregation in reciting the Hail Mary.
“This news is really hard,” added a Neshaminy parent, who didn’t want to be identified, but whose daughter knows the injured Neshaminy sophomore. “As a parent I’m an emotional wreck and just devastated that kids were hurt.”
Bristol Township School District Superintendent Sam Lee confirmed that he was told at least a few students in his district were aboard the bus, but they apparently had only minor injuries.
“It’s terrible any way you cut it,” he added.
The parent of a Conwell-Egan Catholic student — who was a trip chaperone — reportedly also suffered serious broken bones. An official at Bucks County Technical High School in Bristol Township on Sunday also confirmed that two students were on the bus trip.
All but four people were injured when the bus, which was headed back to Bristol, slammed into the Western Avenue Bridge on Soldier’s Field Road shortly before 8 p.m. Saturday, state police said.
Roughly half the passengers suffered minor injuries and were treated and released, police said. Seven others were taken to Massachusetts General, three to the New England Medical Center, and three to Brigham & Women’s Hospital.
The most seriously injured passenger was taken to Boston Medical Center. Police only described that person’s injures as severe. Police did not say if the injured person was an adult or teen.
The National Transportation Safety Board has been contacted and it may send representatives to assist in the state police investigation into the crash. The bridge has no structural damage and no safety concerns were identified, state police said.
On Sunday, troopers from the Massachusetts State Police Commercial Motor Vehicle Enforcement section conducted a through examination of the bus with troopers from the Collision Analysis and Reconstruction section. More than 20 victims on the bus were interviewed, state police said in an email media update.
Their crash investigation will look at factors including how long the bus driver — identified as Samuel Jackson, 66, of Philadelphia — was operating the bus Saturday before the crash occurred. The report is expected to take two to six weeks to finish, police said.
A preliminary investigation shows that Jackson — who was not injured — failed to observe and follow signs warning of a 10-foot height limit on Soldier’s Field Road. He likely will be cited for an overhead violation, but could face more serious charges, police said.
Ray Talmedge, owner of the Philadelphia-based Calvary Coach Bus company, says that Jackson looked down at his GPS and saw the bridge too late. Talmedge, who said he didn’t know anything about the road restrictions, said Jackson also drives a school bus.
The newspaper was unsuccessful Sunday in reaching Destined for a Dream founder Erica Waller-Hill, a 1995 Harry S. Truman High School graduate. But on her Facebook page Sunday afternoon, Waller-Hill thanked people for their prayers and words of encouragement.
The charter bus suffered significant damage in the crash. The front part of the roof was pushed in while the center section bowed downward. Firefighters removed at least four trapped passengers out of the mangled roof. The last victim was freed around 9 p.m. Saturday, according to the department.
On Sunday evening as many trip-goers headed back to Bucks County, Alana Merrigan and her parents waited for X-ray scan results in the emergency room at St. Mary Medical Center in Middletown.
Teresa Merrigan said her husband and son drove from their Bristol Township home to Boston late Saturday to pick up Alana, who she said was diagnosed with a concussion and swollen ankle. She was among the nearly two dozen passengers treated and released in Boston.
“She is in a lot of pain, her head is really hurting,” Merrigan said. “She is a little shook up.”
Merrigan is too.
She had texted her daughter — who studies Allied Health at the Bristol Township tech school — around 7 p.m. Saturday night to get an idea of what she was doing and when she’d be home. Alana has been involved with Destined for a Dream for a few months, Merrigan said.
About an hour later, Merrigan’s cellphone rang again. This time her husband answered it. He heard screaming, crying and yelling behind his daughter’s panicked voice telling him the bus roof had collapsed.
“We didn’t know, did the bus roll over,” Teresa said. “I kept saying is anything broken, are you bleeding. I was a nervous wreck.”
Her daughter was seated in the rear of the bus in the row in front of the bathroom, which Teresa believes helped protect her during the impact. The emergency exit was just above her seat.
Alana told her mom that she helped about six or seven people out of the emergency exit before pulling herself through the hatch, Merrigan said.
Jo Ciavaglia: 215-949-4181; email: jciavaglia@phillyBurbs.com; Twitter: @jociavaglia
|Victims of the Boston bus accident arriving in Bristol|
Posted: Thursday, February 7, 2013
A week after her boyfriend pleaded guilty to murdering her 18-month-old daughter, a Bristol Township woman is facing criminal charges because authorities say she knew the girl was being injured and did nothing to stop it.
Bensalem police allege that Nakia Adams, 28, knew that Adrian Allen, 28, had physically abused Barbara Adams before he fatally injured the girl on Feb. 25, 2012. They also say she she lied about how the injuries happened and neglected to get the girl prompt treatment.
Adams, of Haines Road, was arraigned Monday before Bensalem District Judge Leonard Brown on a charge of endangering the welfare of children. She was released on $75,000 unsecured bail.
Police didn’t say why they waited almost a year before filing charges against Adams.
Hospital and autopsy records show that multiple injuries were inflicted on Barbara Adams during the two months before her death. They included a broken arm, a broken leg, broken ribs, a human adult bite mark on her upper arm, and bruising and scars covered her body. She died 11 days after Allen kicked her in the head after she soiled her diaper.
Adams was “very well aware of (Barbara) suffering many injuries under her boyfriend’s care and still allowing him to care for her until the tragic death of the child,” according to a probable cause affidavit.
Police say that on Jan. 7, 2012, Adams took Barbara to Aria Health’s Torresdale campus, where she told hospital workers the baby appeared to be suffering side effects from vaccinations she received a few weeks before. She told the medical staff that Barbara had developed a full body rash a week after getting the shots and was lethargic for three days, according to an affidavit.
“Today, she can’t walk on her right leg,” she also told the ER workers, according to the affidavit, in which the mother is also quoted as saying the girl also had favored her left arm.
Adams left the emergency room after waiting a few hours without allowing doctors to treat Barbara, police said.
The next day, Adams took the girl to St. Mary Medical Center – not for treatment of her arm – but for a spiral fracture of her right leg. The primary report by the ER staff stated that Adams claimed her daughter’s leg and hip pain began the day before. The ER staff also found several old burn marks on the girl’s upper left leg and a spiral fracture of the leg, police said.
“She failed to mention anything about the baby’s arm,” according to court documents.
The mother also lied about who was caring for the child when she was injured, police said. She told St. Mary workers the injuries were caused by a babysitter whom she had since fired. She later admitted Allen was the babysitter.
St. Mary Medical Center notified police about the injuries. They, in turn, notified Bucks County Children and Youth Social Services, which investigated how the child broke her leg. The District Attorney’s Office has said it appears the agency was satisfied with Adams’ explanation that her two older sisters accidentally broke the girl’s leg while roughhousing and closed the case.
Barbara’s last trip to the ER was Feb. 26, after Adams told police she arrived at her Bensalem apartment around 6:45 p.m. to find her daughter in bed and unresponsive. She told police the girl appeared to be grinding her teeth and looked as though she had suffered a seizure.
Adams told officials she left Barbara and her sisters – ages 5 and 8 – with Allen the weekend of Feb. 24 while she was out of town. Allen, who isn’t the father of any of the children, regularly babysat for Adams, police said.
At first, Allen told police the child became sick on Feb. 25, was throwing up and the next morning was “out of it,” police said. Allen said he didn’t seek medical attention for the girl, but called Adams to tell her Barbara was sick.
Prosecutors alleged that Allen initially told them Barbara was injured after she knocked over four stacked wooden kitchen chairs while leaning against them to get up after a fall. The accident happened after Allen forced the child to walk on her broken leg to dispose of her dirty diaper because he was “mad at her mother,” according to his probable cause affidavit.
Allen later told police that he “snapped” while trying to change Barbara’s diaper, and forced the child to walk across the kitchen to put the soiled diaper in a trash can, even though her leg was in a cast from the earlier break. Allen then admitted that he kicked the little girl in the head while he was wearing heavy boots, causing her to begin having seizures.
When Adams returned home and found her daughter unconscious, she took her to St. Mary Medical Center, where doctors determined she had serious internal bleeding in her skull that required emergency surgery. There also was evidence of blunt force trauma to her head, a cut on her top lip, and other injures consistent with child abuse, police said.
Barbara was transferred to St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children, where she died from the head trauma.
Bensalem police say Adams has cooperated with their investigation into Barbara’s death and the prosecution of Allen. Her two other children don’t appear to have been physically abused. Bucks County Children and Youth Social Services removed the girls, who are in the custody of their grandmother.
Last week, Allen — also a Bristol Township resident — pleaded guilty in Bucks County Court to third-degree murder and child endangerment, and no-contest to first-degree murder in Barbara’s death. He will serve life in prison under the plea agreement, which took the death penalty off the table.
At his court appearance, Allen apologized to Adams, who was in the courtroom audience.
“There’s obviously nothing I can say or do to change what happened, but I truly am sorry from the bottom of my heart,” he said. “I hope what happens today brings you some kind of closure, brings some kind of peace. Oh, Nakia, I’m so sorry.”
Posted: Friday, February 8, 2013
High doses of anabolic steroids can make someone leaner, bigger and angrier, studies suggest. But can suddenly stopping the drugs make someone mentally ill?
A lawyer for a longtime New Jersey police officer who allegedly fired more than 100 bullets at police during a 10-hour standoff in Doylestown Township last year believes the answer is yes. He won’t be the first defense lawyer to use the so-called “dumbbell defense,” a legal strategy of blaming criminal behavior on the psychological effects of anabolic steroids.
“If I were in his shoes, I’d be reaching for this (defense), too,” said John Hoberman of the University of Texas, who has studied steroid use among athletes and law enforcement. “At this point, there is no way to confirm that anabolic steroid use or withdrawal from use is the cause of a specific violent outburst. It’s basically speculation.”
Because scientific evidence linking anabolic steroid abuse and side effects is limited — at best — mostly because the non-medical use of the drug is illegal, such a defense has worked in some court cases, but not in others.
What data is available suggest the drug can be addictive and that stopping it suddenly can trigger withdrawal symptoms, including depression, experts say. Evidence also suggests that psychiatric side effects quickly disappear after the drug is stopped.
Jeffrey Simms, the attorney who represents the New Jersey officer, Richard Klementovich, maintains that Klementovich was under intense personal and professional stress and experiencing several psychiatric conditions, including withdrawal from anabolic steroids, when he snapped last Father’s Day and barricaded himself in the Bittersweet Drive home of his estranged wife.
He recently filed notice with Bucks County Court that he will prepare a temporary insanity defense for his client’s trial scheduled for April. Klementovich is charged with six counts of attempted murder, 21 counts of aggravated assault and related charges. He’s being held in the county prison on $1 million bail.
Steroid use as a defense is tricky ground, especially in states like Pennsylvania where voluntary intoxication isn’t a legitimate defense, according to forensic psychiatrist Dr. Ryan Hall, who has published articles on anabolic steroid abuse.
If someone voluntarily takes an illegal drug — and without a prescription anabolic steroids are illegal — trying to say behaviors committed under its influence was the cause won’t fly, he said.
Where the defense might apply is when a person buys an over-the-counter product or dietary supplement that contains anabolic steroids unbeknownst to the person, Hall said.
In cases in which a defendant has both a history of mental illness and steroid addiction, the legal waters get murkier: Did the steroid use trigger a bipolar episode or visa-versa, Hall said.
Blaming anabolic steroids for criminal behavior has worked at least once. In 1986, a Maryland judge ruled that a former competitive bodybuilder could not be held criminally responsible for burglarizing six homes and setting fire to three of them. The judge ruled that “toxic” levels of anabolic steroids taken by the man during his bodybuilding career made him mentally ill.
More recently, the defense has backfired.
A former Boston cop — whose lawyer claimed anabolic steroid addiction made his client exaggerate many of his behaviors — was sentenced to 26 years in federal prison in 2008 for his part in a major police corruption and drug scandal.
The attorney for the largest drug kingpin in Vermont history also failed in his attempt to blame anabolic steroids for his client’s money laundering and cocaine distribution. His client eventually pleaded guilty in 2011 and was sentenced to 20 years in prison, according to media reports.
Doctors most often prescribe anabolic steroids to restore the body’s normal hormone balance, particularly among men with abnormally low testosterone levels.
Testosterone, the hormone that anabolic steroids mimic, has been prescribed in controlled amounts since the 1930s to treat conditions ranging from impotence to depression. No medical evidence exists that therapeutic doses of the drug result in abuse or dependence, when prescribed properly.
But problems occur when the drug is used in large doses over a short period of time or smaller doses for longer than a couple of weeks, and then abruptly stopped, experts say. What researchers believe happens is the user’s natural testosterone production center shuts down in an attempt to keep the body’s hormones balanced. But once the user stops the steroids, it can take months before the testosterone production resumes to normal.
Few small studies have examined the health risks associated with excessive or prolonged use of anabolic steroids, mostly because ethical concerns prevent scientists from giving subjects super doses to induce side effects. The results of available case studies have been largely inconclusive since side effects vary widely based on the dose amount, duration of use, if other drugs are used with the steroids and any underlying psychiatric issues the user has, experts say.
Most data has focused on the side effects associated with excessive use of anabolic steroids such as irrational behavior, anger, recklessness and depression. Lesser known are the health risks associated with abruptly stopping the drug, experts say.
A 1990 study in the “American Journal of Psychiatry” looked at withdrawal effects in eight bodybuilders using performance-enhancing drugs. All reported at least one bad reaction as a result of drug withdrawal, the most common were greater fatigue and reduced sex drive.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse cites depression as the most dangerous steroid withdrawal symptom and noted that the side effect might be experienced for 12 months or longer after steroid use has stopped. A 1999 “Annals of Clinical Psychiatry” study describes several cases showing a possible association between suicidal thoughts and stopping anabolic steroids.
Generally, psychotic symptoms associated with anabolic steroids are seen in individuals using more than 1,000 mg of testosterone weekly, according to a 2005 study co-authored by Hall, the forensic psychiatrist.
But the psychological symptoms usually resolve within a few weeks after the person stops using the drug, though they can persist for up to a month even when properly treated with anti-psychotic medications, according to Hall, also an assistant professor of psychiatry in the Department of Medical Education at the University of the Central Florida College of Medicine.
In his 2005 research paper, Hall found at least six cases of steroid-induced criminal behavior — three murders and three violent attacks. In half the cases, there was evidence of significant antisocial behavior, violence or criminal behavior before the steroid-related episode.
Hall also found that the psychiatric symptoms in all the perpetrators cleared within two weeks to two months after stopping steroids, and all the subjects retained specific memory of the acts and their “delusional” thinking at the time the crime was committed.
Hall says there is evidence that anabolic steroid abusers are at a higher risk of violent death because of their impulsiveness, aggressive behavior or depression.
Charles Yesalis is a nationally recognized expert on steroid abuse and professor emeritus at Penn State University in health policy and administration exercise and sports medicine
He believes steroid withdrawal could contribute to depression in some people. In studies, he found weightlifters who stopped using the drug became depressed when their ability to lift heavy weight decreased, as well as their muscular appearance.
“Is the science really strong behind this? No it’s not,” Yesalis said. “All in all, it’s a murky defense.”