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Boy charged in arson was on medication

He's held at Maxey; counseling being set up

April 12, 2002

BY SHERYL JAMES
FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER

The 15-year-old Howell High School freshman arrested after the school was damaged by fire and vandalized this week had been taking a powerful antidepressant for 12 days, his lawyer said Thursday.

Attorney Ronald Plunkett of Brighton appeared with the boy in Livingston County Juvenile Court in Howell as he pleaded not guilty to charges of arson, breaking into a building with intent to commit a felony and malicious destruction of property. The boy waived his right to a preliminary hearing.

Referee David Batdorf Barnes set an April 24 hearing to determine whether to charge the boy as a juvenile or an adult. Barnes set bail at $250,000.

Livingston County Prosecutor David Morse said Wednesday that he wanted to learn more about the boy's background before deciding whether to charge him as an adult. If convicted as an adult, he could face up to 10 years in prison.

The Free Press generally does not publish the names of juveniles charged with crimes.

The boy's parents, who were in court along with his older brother and sister, will not post the bail, Plunkett said. He said the boy's family believes it is safer for him to remain at the W.J. Maxey Training School in Whitmore Lake for now. The family is arranging private psychiatric counseling and evaluation, Plunkett said.

The boy had been seeing an Ann Arbor counselor for depression before he allegedly caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage to the Howell school early Monday. Five fires were set with linseed oil, equipment was destroyed with a hatchet and natural gas was released from tanks in 12 science classrooms. Water from sprinkler systems caused further damage.

A Howell police officer arrested the boy about 1:30 a.m. Wednesday when he drove his parents' van with the lights out into the parking lot of McPherson Middle School, adjacent to the high school.

Police said they took gasoline, a hatchet and other evidence from the van. The boy tried to run but was apprehended and has since cooperated with authorities.

The family has lived in Livingston County for 11 years. Officials said the boy had no record as a juvenile or school-related disciplinary problems. The only apparent explanation for his behavior, Plunkett said, is that he was adversely affected by the antidepressant Paxil.

"It changed him," Plunkett said, characterizing what he said the boys' parents described. "He indicated it made him feel different."

The boy also told police he didn't want to go back to school after spring break. Plunkett described the boy, who is 5-feet-7 and slightly built, as "somewhat of a loner."

Plunkett said he likely will use a diminished capacity defense. He said he has researched several cases involving crimes allegedly committed by people taking the drug.

Mary Anne Rhyne, a spokeswoman for GlaxoSmithKline, which makes Paxil, said Thursday she is not familiar with the Howell case, but said "there is no reliable evidence linking this kind of behavior with Paxil."

Many lawsuits have been filed against GlaxoSmithKline. Families of some users allege the drug caused violent reactions, including hallucinations, psychosis, suicide attempts and aggressive behavior.

Contact SHERYL JAMES at 810-227-8009 or sjames@freepress.com.

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