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Military appeal: issue in murder case on excluded evidence

A military criminal case that is now at the appellate level presents intriguing questions about the suppression of evidence and a defendant’s right to present a defense.

The case is scheduled to be heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (the country’s highest-ranking appellate court) next week. The questions the court will consider relate to a killing that occurred at a Georgia Army facility in 2008. The defendant was convicted of premeditated murder in the case. He is currently serving life in prison, with no chance of parole.

What will play a central role on appeal is the smoking-cessation drug Chantix. The defendant claimed at trial that the drug made him snap, placing him into a homicidal rage. He sought to obtain and introduce Chantix-related documents under the control of the drug manufacturer Pfizer at trial. The court refused his request and did not instruct jurors on an involuntary intoxication defense.

Although some people might likely dismiss a Chantix-related argument in such a case, there was actually much evidence at the time of the trial pointing to clear dangers associated with the product. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued stark warnings about the drug’s potential for “serious neuropsychiatric” problems. Military missile crews were told not to take the medication. The VA contacted thousands of Chantix users to warn them of potential side effects.

None of that information featured at trial, and the appellate court next week will consider whether its exclusion was in error and compromised the defendant’s right to a fair trial.

His appellate lawyer certainly thinks that the exclusion was fundamentally unfair.

“He was denied the right to present his defense,” the attorney recently stated.

Source: Stars and Stripes, “Convicted of recruit’s murder, soldier blames anti-smoking drug,” Michael Doyle (McClatchy Washington Bureau), May 4, 2014

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