For Retrial, Subway Defendant Stops Taking His Medication
By David Rohde As jury selection began yesterday in the second murder trial of a schizophrenic man who pushed a young woman in front of a subway train, attention focused on a rare tactic by his lawyers: the defendant, Andrew Goldstein, stopped taking his anti-psychotic medication two weeks ago.
Mr. Goldstein, 30, sat calmly and attentively yesterday between his new court-appointed lawyers who advised him to go off his drugs in an effort to demonstrate to the jury the debilitating effects of his mental illness. But some experts described the move as desperate and unethical.
No on knows whether the lack of medication will have an incremental or sudden effect on Mr. Goldstein's state of mind over the course of the trial, which is expected to last more than a month.
Mr. , Goldstein, who has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, is "very comfortable" with the new tactic, according to his lawyers, who said he was eager to testify.
"We've talked about it," said Kevin Canfield, one of the defense lawyers. "He wants to testify; he does. Whether or not he'll change his mind, I don't know."
The move adds another twist to a high-profile case that has exposed the inadequacies of the state's mental health system.
Mr. Goldstein, who has cycled in and out of mental institutions for more than a decade, has admitted that he pushed Kendra Webdale to her death on Jan. 3, 1999, but has said he was not responsible because of his schizophrenia. His first trail, in November, ended with the jury deadlocked 10 to 2 in favor of conviction.
Taking a mentally ill defendant off anti-psychotic medication during a trial is an unusual legal tactic that divides lawyers and psychiatrists. Doctors currently treating Mr. Goldstein at Bellevue Hospital Center strongly oppose taking him off his medication, his defense lawyers said.
Others were also skeptical. "It seems irresponsible to take a man off medication to produce some kind of dramatic effect before a jury," said Richard Iviller, a Columbia University law professor. "A lawyer's first duty is to preserve his client's health."
But other experts said it was an ugly but necessary step. Dr.
E. Fuller Torrey, an expert on schizophrenia who heads the Stanley Research Foundation in Bethesda, Md., said he had intentionally given homeless mentally ill patients less medication than they needed before court competency hearings to keep them from being out back on the street.
"If I were his lawyer, I would argue for the same thing." he said. "If I were Andrew Goldstein, I would want the jury to see how psychotic I could be."
Dr. Torrey said it was not clear whether allowing a mentally ill person to suffer a breakdown causes long-term damage, but he said a breakdown would surely be harrowing for Mr.
Goldstein. I've never seen anyone with schizophrenia who enjoyed being in a psychotic state," he said.
The tactic, like the insanity defense itself, is extremely rare, according to legal experts. Lawyers for Russell E. Weston Jr., a mentally ill man accused of killing two guards in a shooting rampage at the United States Capitol in July 1998, refused to put him on anti-psychotic medication. Subsequently, a judge ruled him incompetent to stand trial for murder and committed him to a mental institution. But in other cases, judges have forced defendants to take their medication.
In the Goldstein case, Justice Carol Berkman of State Supreme Court in Manhattan has said she would allow Mr. Goldstein to stop taking his medication for as long as he appears competent to stand trial. If he appears not to understand his surroundings, she ruled, he will be forcibly given his medication.
Mr. Goldstein showed no signs of disorientation during yesterday's court proceedings, briskly answering a series of routine questions from the judge. In fact, he appeared more alert than he had during his first trial, when he was fully medicated.
Odd behavior by Mr. Goldstein in front of the jury should not technically affect his case, legal experts say. The jury will be instructed to judge Mr. Goldstein's state of mind at the time he pushed Ms. Webdale, not his state of mind during the trial.
But legal experts said juries in insanity defense cases are known to go with their inner sense of whether or not a defendant is unsound or just faking it. Several jurors in Mr.
Goldstein's first trail said they noted his demeanor in the courtroom, which they said appeared normal.
If neither side presents new evidence in the second trial, an appearance by Mr. Goldstein on the witness stand could be pivotal. Mr. Canfield said he was unsure whether his client would actually take the stand, warning that prosecutors could "destroy" Mr. Goldstein on cross-examination. But the defense may gamble that the image of a frightened and disoriented mentally ill defendant is their best hope.
Paul F. Stavis, director of the Center for Law and Psychiatry at George Mason School of Law in Arlington, Va., said putting any defendant on the witness stand is in unpredictable tactic.
But putting a mentally ill defendant who is off medication on the witness stand -- ethical and medical considerations aside -- is enormously unpredictable.
"If he gets into a delusion where he talks about burning babies, that's not going to help," Mr. Stavis said. "But if he talks about God telling him to do things and crying, that could help. It's very risky, very risky."