Psychiatrist: Antidepressants altered Michelle Carter’s brain in texting suicide case

Carter is charged with manslaughter in the death of Conrad Roy III.

FILE - In this Aug. 24, 2015, file photo, Michelle Carter listens to her defense attorney argue for an involuntary manslaughter charge against her to be dismissed at Juvenile Court in New Bedford, Mass. Carter, of Plainville, Mass., is charged with involuntary manslaughter for allegedly pressuring Conrad Roy III, of Fairhaven, Mass., to commit suicide on July 13, 2014. (Peter Pereira/The New Bedford Standard Times via AP, Pool, File)

TAUNTON, Mass. (WPRI) — A psychiatrist hired by Michelle Carter’s defense team testified Tuesday that the 20-year-old Plainville woman was “intoxicated” by antidepressants when she encouraged her friend to kill himself in 2014.

A judge is trying to determine if expert testimony from Dr. Peter Breggin will be admissible when the trial gets underway in June.

Carter, who was 17 at the time, is charged with manslaughter in the death of Conrad Roy III.

Roy took his own life. The prosecution argues Carter is criminally responsible for his death because she encouraged him to kill himself through a series of text messages.

The case drew national attention after transcripts of the messages were released publicly.

Dr. Breggin testified that Carter was prescribed both Prozac and Celexa as a teenager and the drugs altered her developing brain, causing impulsivity and “hypomania” that she otherwise would not have experienced.

“She had no notion of wrongfulness on what she was doing,” said Breggin. He also said Celexa is not recommend for patients under 18 because of the possible effects on the brain.

Carter is accused, in part, of texting Roy to follow through with his suicide plans, even convincing him to get back in a car that was filling up with carbon monoxide.

“The impairment of being on the drugs while you are growing up – while you’re brain is maturing, while your frontal lobes are developing – you’re talking about being inundated with neurotoxic effects,” Breggin explained.

During cross-examination, Assistant District Attorney Katie Rayburn doubted Breggin’s claims, sounding almost incredulous when Breggin mentioned “irritability” as one of the effects of the antidepressants.

“You’re saying she was irritable at him because she was getting angry at him that he wouldn’t kill himself? That’s her irritability?” Rayburn asked.

“Yes,” Breggin responded. “Isn’t that crazy?”

Rayburn attempted to expose some of Breggin’s less-than-mainstream views of psychiatric syndromes and his doubts about the effectiveness of medications to treat mental health problems. She also got him to admit that he never interviewed Carter or her parents while conducting his evaluation, although he did meet with them once.

The judge will ultimately decide whether Breggin’s testimony will be admitted in the trial, which is slated to begin June 5.

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