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Man Asserts Prozac® Defense at Bombing Trial


March 1996

A New York man's lawyers are arguing that he is not responsible for twice bombing New York subway cars because of a toxic combination of Prozac® and other prescription drugs (Thomas J. Lueck, "Doctor Says Drugs Left Bomb Suspect in Fantasyland," New York Times, February 23, 1996, p. B1; Clyde Haberman, "Blaming Prozac: 90s Version of Twinkie Defense in Subway Bombing Trial," New York Times, February 6, 1996, p. B3; Lisa Peterson, "Witnesses Tell of Leary's Clothes Smoking," Star-Ledger (New Jersey), February 2, 1996, p. 5).

Edward J. Leary is accused of attempted murder and assault in connection with two firebombings in the New York City subway system on December 15 and 21, 1994. The defense has argued that Leary did carry out the bombings, but he was unable to distinguish right from wrong due to a toxic combination of Prozac® and other prescription drugs given to him by a physician to treat depression after losing his job. His lawyers, Ira London and Robert Fogelnest, say Leary never intended to hurt anyone in the bombings. Although no one was killed in the attacks, 50 people were injured and scarred from the resulting fires. [Fogelnest in the current president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL).]

University of Pennsylvania Professor Joseph DiGiacomo, testifying for the defense on February 22, said Leary was taking the antidepressants Prozac® and Effexor®, the antianxiety drug Buspar®, and Biaxin®, an antibiotic. He testified that the combination of the drugs, in high levels, can cause "fragmentation" and an inability to judge one's actions. Effexor® and Prozac® are broken down in the body by the same enzyme, a process that is hindered when the two are taken at the same time.

The prosecution is arguing that Leary carefully constructed his explosive devices and his plans to bomb the trains, something an impaired person could not do. They say he planted the bombs in an attempt to extort money out of the New York Transit Authority.