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Pills drove husband to murder



A JUDGE yesterday blamed Australia's most widely used anti-depressant for provoking a depressed man to kill his wife of 50 years.

Pfizer, the maker of Zoloft, has denied the product was unsafe and psychiatrists said there was no need for public concern.

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 Zoloft.

"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 States.

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."



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