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NewsChannel 8 - The Virginia Report   
Woman Who Blamed Mother's Death On Paxil Is Convicted Of Murder
Posted - September 29, 2003 5:38pm
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Roanoke, Va. (AP) - A woman who claimed prescription antidepressants made her homicidal was convicted Monday of brutally stomping her mother to death in a bathroom scuffle in the middle of the night.

Cindy Gail Countess, 49, was escorted from Circuit Court by sheriff's deputies, sobbing as Judge Clifford R. Weckstein ruled there was enough evidence to convict her of second-degree murder.

Sentencing was set for Nov. 24. Countess faces up to 40 years in prison.

Throughout the four-day bench trial, Countess did not dispute prosecutors' claims that she killed her mother, 82-year-old Edna Dooley, on May 3, 2002. In a rare defense, lawyers argued that Countess' prescription for the anti-depressant Paxil intoxicated her, turning her especially belligerent and unable to make thoughtful decisions.

"She did not have the power to control or restrain her actions," lawyer Anna Bagwell said.

Prosecutors argued there was no scientific evidence to back those claims, and that Countess was never clear about the kind or amount of drugs she was taking when asked by the defense's medical expert.

Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Alice Ekirch offered an alternate reason for the killing: Countess, Ekirch said, always blamed her mother for her own marital problems and for holding back her father from a rising career in country music.

That night, when mother and daughter ran into each other in the bathroom, Ekirch said, the daughter's pent-up rate took over. The two began to fight, and when Dooley fell to the floor, Countess kicked her so hard that it left shoe prints on her mother's face and arm.

"At the time she was flogging her mother, maybe she wasn't planning on killing," Ekirch said. "But what other intent can you have when you begin stomping on her?"

Family members left the courtroom grousing with each other over whether Countess got what she deserved. During her trial, Countess said most of her siblings refused to help care for their sickly mother.

"Nobody knows what all she's been through since my father died," said Countess' sister, Norma Draper. "She's been under such stress, and with the personality disorders ... I think she should have been acquitted."

Countess moved to Roanoke from Nevada in 1997 to care for her mother after her father's death. But she had health troubles of her own, Draper said, struggling with breast cancer, depression and borderline personality dementia.

According to prosecutors, Countess usually mixed a number of pain medications with different antidepressants, borrowing Paxil from friends when she couldn't fill her own prescription.

The Paxil helped, but at times Countess had to go without. Bagwell said Dooley regularly hid the medication from her daughter. The night of their fight, Countess said in court she was able to retrieve one 30 mg pill after a week without medication.

Pharmacologist Kenneth Brasfield said abruptly stopping regular doses of antidepressants can leave people in a state of withdrawal, making them more aggressive and possibly homicidal. Brasfield, who studied taped interviews of Countess taken shortly after the killing and spoke with her for an hour on the telephone, said she was probably in a foggy state of mind that night.

Though she understood the difference between right and wrong, Brasfield said Countess probably was unable to act correctly.

He was uncertain, however, if Paxil was to blame. Countess previously told police she had two shots of alcohol the night her mother died.

"It was less likely to be alcohol than it was to be Paxil," Brasfield said.

Paxil representatives did not return calls Monday afternoon seeking comment.

Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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