10 More Months for Teen who Cited Prozac in Killing

November 5, 2011

5 Nov – A Winnipeg teen who blames Prozac for the unprovoked murder of his friend will soon be back on the streets.  The boy, who was 16 at the time of the deadly September 2009 stabbing inside a West St. Paul home, was sentenced Friday to 10 more months behind bars in addition to 26 months of time already served.   He was also placed on four years of community supervision.

by Mike McIntyre
Winnipeg Free Press

Provincial court Judge Robert Heinrichs rejected the Crown’s request for the maximum youth sentence of four additional years in jail with no credit given for pretrial custody. He said the Youth Criminal Justice Act doesn’t allow for “punishment” of young offenders but instead requires the “least restrictive sanctions” to promote their rehabilitation.

“Society’s condemnation of this offender’s conduct cannot be a factor in this sentencing,” said Heinrichs.

It’s the second recent legal victory for the youth. Heinrichs previously denied the Crown’s bid to have him raised to adult court, where he would have received a mandatory life sentence with no chance of parole for at least seven years. The judge cited the teen’s use of Prozac at the time of the slaying as a major factor.

“His basic normalcy now further confirms he no longer poses a risk of violence to anyone and that his mental deterioration and resulting violence would not have taken place without exposure to Prozac,” Heinrichs said in his decision.

Seth Ottenbreit, 15, died of a single stab wound to the stomach. His grieving family members have been vocal critics of the youth justice system and believe penalties need to be increased.

A psychiatrist, Dr. Keith Hildahl, testified earlier this year it’s troubling Ottenbreit’s killer hasn’t been able to provide any reason for his actions. The boy, who had no criminal record, had been prescribed Prozac three months prior to the slaying. Hildahl said some studies have linked Prozac with behavioural and emotional changes in young users.

Defence lawyer Greg Brodsky told court the teen’s parents complained he was getting worse while taking the drug, prompting his doctor to increase the dosage. Dr. Peter Breggin, a New York-based psychiatrist, told court the teen’s use of Prozac likely meant he wasn’t in full control of his actions.

Court heard how the killer went from a loving, happy-go-lucky kid to a dark, depressed drug abuser. He began to act out violently and even tried to harm himself on several occasions. Heinrichs said it’s clear the boy’s parents did the right thing in taking their concerns to his various doctors, but they were largely ignored.

“(Prozac) clearly affected his behaviour in an alarming way,” Heinrichs said Friday. “He was simply not the same person.”

Mikeoncrime.com – Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 5, 2011 A11