A JUDGE yesterday blamed Australia's most widely used
anti-depressant for provoking a depressed man to kill his wife of 50
Pfizer, the maker of Zoloft, has denied the product
was unsafe and psychiatrists said there was no need for public
In a case described by Justice Barry O'Keefe as "most
extraordinary", David Hawkins, 76, was given a two-year minimum jail
sentence for strangling his wife Margaret, 70, at their hobby farm
at Tumbarumba, in southern NSW in 1999.
Because of time already served in remand, Hawkins, who pleaded
guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility,
will be free in nine weeks.
Hours before the killing, Hawkins took five Zoloft tablets - five
times the prescribed dosage.
The NSW Supreme Court judge said it was "overwhelmingly probable"
that Mrs Hawkins would not have died if her husband had not taken
"The killing was totally out of character for the prisoner,
inconsistent with the loving caring relationship which existed
between him and his wife and with their happy marriage of almost 50
years," Justice O'Keefe told the court.
Hawkins showed little emotion on learning his fate until he
embraced his daughter, Margaret Fryar, who earlier gave evidence her
parents had a "pretty perfect" relationship.
Pfizer rejected the judge's comments, saying evidence presented
to the court could not be considered a "rigorous examination of all
the clinical and medical data".
The drug company is convinced of Zoloft's safety but the case has
been reported to regulatory bodies in Australia and the United
The court was told Hawkins awoke in a panic in the early hours of
August 1, 1999, and began crying.
He took a Zoloft tablet prescribed to him the day before for a
bout of depression sparked by the sale of the couple's farm.
While he could not recall it, police believe Hawkins took another
four pills over a four-hour period before attacking his wife.
"I just went absolutely berserk; I can remember shouting and
screaming," Hawkins said.
"I went absolutely berserk. I have never done it before."