Part of the third page reads: "A month before the stabbing, his dosage of Celexa was doubled, from 20 milligrams to 40."
"Information on Celexa, which affects chemicals in the brain and is used to treat depression, contains warnings of suicidal thoughts, hostility and impulsive behavior, especially at the beginning of the drug therapy or when doses are changed."
Murder suspect sought help before stabbings
LAWRENCE | Two weeks before he stabbed two of his closest friends, Timothy Whitman sought help for the "weird things" going through his mind.
The therapist who saw him Aug. 28, 2001, sent Whitman home, telling him to cut back on his heavy drinking. An appointment was made for him to return for another counseling session a month later.
But by then, Whitman was in jail, accused of killing 21-year-old Matthew Valli and seriously injuring 19-year-old Brooke Pelletier during a 3 a.m. attack at an apartment on Woodman Way in Newburyport.
Whitman's attorney, Raymond Buso, began presenting his case to the jury yesterday, the third day of testimony in the first-degree murder and assault trial for the attack on Valli and Pelletier more than four years ago.
Judge Richard Welch told the jury of 14 that the case would likely be in their hands by Thursday.
Buso is trying to convince those jurors that Whitman, 24, was suffering from a "psychotic break" when he repeatedly stabbed his friends while they slept in their apartment on Sept. 14, 2001. If the jury finds him not guilty because of mental illness, Whitman would be held in custody at a hospital, Buso told the jury earlier this week.
Whitman did spend several months after his arrest being evaluated at Bridgewater State Hospital. The doctors who treated and evaluated him are expected to testify when the trial resumes in Superior Court on Tuesday.
In the years before the murder, Whitman's parents, who raised him on Boardman Street in Newburyport, had been trying to get help for their troubled son, yesterday's testimony revealed.
His problems began in first grade with trouble concentrating in class. Whitman, the second youngest of five children, was placed in special education classes throughout elementary school.
His troubles, however, escalated when he was 14 and started high school. For the first time, he was placed in mainstream classes, and began staying out late with friends.
Those late nights were among the reasons why he didn't always get along with his parents, his father, Richard Whitman, testified.
"Tim and I never really saw eye to eye," he said before becoming so choked with tears that he could not continue.
As Richard Whitman lowered his head and spent a long moment composing himself, his son, sitting at the defendant's table, pushed his chair back, leaned forward, and lowered his head, too.
Years of symptoms
Whitman started displaying symptoms of depression during his teenage years, his father said.
"He was, like, lifeless," Richard Whitman said. "He didn't want to do anything. He stayed in bed most of the day."
The depression eventually led to a suicide attempt after the father and son had an argument about one of the teen's friends. After the fight, Whitman, then 16, stole alcohol from his parents, and gathered different pills he found in the house. In his bedroom, he downed the pills with alcohol and went to sleep.
The next morning, his younger sister Megan found him in bed comatose. Whitman was rushed to Anna Jaques Hospital, where his stomach was pumped and he was given therapy.
The therapy continued for years afterward, his treatment including the prescription of anti-depressants. A month before the stabbing, his dosage of Celexa was doubled, from 20 milligrams to 40.
Information on Celexa, which affects chemicals in the brain and is used to treat depression, contains warnings of suicidal thoughts, hostility and impulsive behavior, especially at the beginning of the drug therapy or when doses are changed. The drug can also take several weeks to become effective.
Though Celexa users are told to avoid alcohol, Whitman continued to drink regularly.
The therapist who saw him two weeks before Valli's murder, Thomas McDonough, testified that he was concerned about the amount of alcohol Whitman was drinking.
"There was far more drinking than most kids that age," McDonough said.
The night before the attack on Valli and Pelletier, Whitman consumed an estimated half-dozen Twisted Teas, an iced tea drink that contains malt liquor.
At another party prior to the stabbing, Whitman stayed up late talking with a family friend, Rebecca Provencher, now 22. She testified yesterday about the chilling conversation she had with him that night.
Pulling out a pocketknife, Whitman told her "we should get together and kill," she said. When Provencher asked what he meant, he replied: "Oh, nothing. It's just the voices in my head."
Whitman told her he was "just kidding" when she continued to question him, Provencher testified.
Whitman told several other people about "voices" he was hearing in the weeks and months prior to the murder. But he never told McDonough, who he saw him that Aug. 28, about those voices.
McDonough would have been much more concerned if he had known about the voices, he said in court yesterday. But from what McDonough learned during the 50-minute session he had with Whitman that day, the therapist did not consider him a danger to himself or others.
McDonough had been working at Northern Essex Mental Health in Newburyport when Whitman went there for help for his depression. The appointment was made at the last minute as a "crisis intervention."
Feeling that the recently increased dosage of Celexa would help "stabilize" the 20-year-old's mood, and seeing the involvement of his family, McDonough decided not to admit him to the hospital.
"He had people around him that were supportive," he said.
Whitman's family continues to support him, with his parents and three of his siblings attending court every day during the trial.
His parents were also there for him the day Whitman was charged with murder.
Whitman had called home about four hours before the attack, asking for his sister and talking briefly to his father, who recalled that his son "sounded happy."
But Richard Whitman got another phone call early the next morning, about 5:30 or 6:30. The caller told him his son had killed somebody and was in custody at the police station.
"What am I supposed to do now?" Richard Whitman asked the caller.
Richard Whitman took a change of clothes for his son to the station and found him in a daze.
"He was blank," the father testified. "He didn't know what was going on."
Voices 'overwhelmed' murder suspect
Therapists point to disorder similar to schizophrenia during trial testimony
LAWRENCE -- The voice was usually deep and demeaning, telling Timothy Whitman he was "no good."
Whitman had been hearing the voice in his head for years, he would tell people, and would often drink alcohol to keep it quiet.
But the five to 10 Twisted Tea drinks he had on Sept. 13, 2001, couldn't stop the voice. And the alcohol didn't stop him from listening when the voices told him to "take them out."
"They were overwhelming to him," said Robert Joss, a forensic psychologist who evaluated Whitman in the years since he admitted to stabbing two of his friends. "The picture of reality was so distorted by what was going on in his head."
Joss was one of two mental health professionals to take the witness stand yesterday in the defense's attempt to show Whitman, now 24, was legally insane when he stabbed 21-year-old Matthew Valli to death in a Woodman Way, Newburyport, apartment four years ago. The same attack left Valli's 19-year-old girlfriend seriously injured, though she survived to testify against Whitman last week.
More mental health experts will testify today, the fifth day of Whitman's trial in Superior Court on charges of murder and assault.
The most documented -- and least disputed -- of Whitman's mental disorders is the severe depression he has been suffering most of his life. When he was 16, Whitman tried to kill himself at his home on Boardman Street, Newburyport, launching several years of treatment by doctors and therapists.
Whitman still takes Celexa, the anti-depressant he was prescribed prior to the attack on his friends.
But yesterday's witnesses, called by defense attorney Raymond Buso, said Whitman has symptoms of other mental illnesses and defects, including one called schizotypal personality disorder. Similar to schizophrenia, the disease is characterized by eccentric behavior, a distorted view of the world and the inability to form relationships.
Though the woman he attacked four years ago, Brooke Pelletier, testified they had once been close friends, Joss noted that Whitman's "friendships" had been based on drinking alcohol and partying, not on real intimacy. The lack of intimacy is a symptom of the disorder.
"He didn't appear to have any close relationships," Joss said. "He has a series of relationships that don't have a lot of depth."
The symptoms of the schizotypal disorder started early, Joss testified. As a child, Whitman didn't want to stay in the Cub Scouts because he was paranoid and suspicious of other people, thinking they were watching him all the time.
"He had very bizarre thought patterns," Joss said.
Whitman had voices in his head, starting in the eighth grade, according to testimony.
The voices worsened when Whitman was severely depressed, telling him he was worthless.
"You'll never amount to anything," a deep voice would often say. "You're no good."
Whitman told a psychiatrist, Montgomery Brower, that the voices would "degrade me, make me think negative of myself," Brower testified yesterday.
"He was hearing these kind of voices constantly," Brower said.
During his years of therapy, and during a visit to Northern Essex Mental Health in Newburyport two weeks before the murder, Whitman never mentioned the voices. He told only friends and family about the voices because he didn't want to be hospitalized, according to Joss.
Some of those friends and relatives testified last week about conversations in which Whitman would mention the voices. Others who heard similar statements months before the stabbings were not put on the stand because Judge Richard Welch felt the conversations did not take place close enough to the murder to be relevant to the case.
In court, Buso alluded to a pact between Whitman and his younger sister Megan, which involved him being able to call her when he heard the voices. He did call his home about four hours before the attacks on his friends, asking for his sister.
But his sister was not home that night, testimony last week showed.
That night, Whitman had been at the apartment Valli and Pelletier were sharing. Together, they drank alcohol and talked, with witnesses saying Whitman acted normally throughout the night.
At bedtime, Whitman took a knife from the kitchen and lay down with it next to Pelletier and Valli. As he lay there, a voice kept telling him to harm his friends, Whitman claims.
Prosecutor Gerald Shea noted that Whitman had only acted on a command from the voices in his head once, on the morning of Sept. 14, 2001.
"He's never given in to the voice before or since, right?" Shea asked Joss. "What happened that made him follow that voice?"
"I don't know what happened," Joss answered.
But the lack of answers about what happened that night actually shows that Whitman did not know what he was doing when he repeatedly stabbed his friends for no reason, Joss testified.
"I don't see a motive for this," he said. "I'm still at a loss for any external reason."
Shea has not proposed any motive for the attack, nor is he required to do so to prove that Whitman committed first-degree murder.
But yesterday he noted that even the only witness to the attacks doesn't know everything that happened that night. Pelletier was sleeping soundly while Valli and Whitman got up from bed and spent time together about an hour before the attack.
"Maybe there is a motive, and only he can tell us about it," Shea said, pointing to Whitman.
Joss said he does not think Whitman is faking his illness, pointing to the results of several psychological tests conducted over the years. Joss first interviewed Whitman about a year after Valli's murder, seeing firsthand the strange twists the killer's mind would take.
Once, while talking about his urges to hurt other people, Whitman told Joss, "I could take this pen and stab you in the neck with it," Joss testified.
"I'm sure I've been with people who felt that," Joss said. "But few people would say that."
Jurors will be the ones to decide if Joss' assessment of Whitman is correct. Closing statements by Buso and Shea are expected to take place tomorrow morning, after which the jury will begin deliberating. They can find Whitman guilty, acquit him or deem him not guilty by reason of mental illness.
Under questioning yesterday, Joss agreed that the question of mental illness is not easily answered.
"You can never really tell what's going on inside a person's head," he said.
Highlights -- Day 4
Timothy Whitman is charged with murder and assault in the Sept. 14, 2001, stabbing death of 21-year-old Matthew Valli and injury of Brooke Pelletier, then 20. Whitman is on trial before Judge Richard Welch in Lawrence Superior Court.
Whitman has admitted to the stabbings, but has pleaded not guilty by reason of mental illness.
Two psychology experts testified Whitman for years has suffered from chronic depression and heard voices in his head.
"He's never given in to the voice before or since, right?" the prosecutor asked a psychologist "What happened that made him follow that voice?"
"I don't know what happened," the psychologist answered. "... I don't see a motive for this. I'm still at a loss for any external reason."
Prosecutor: "Maybe there is a motive, and only he can tell us about it,"
More mental health experts are expected to take the stand as testimony winds down, with closing arguments scheduled for tomorrow.
Doctor testifies psychotic illness not found in admitted killer
LAWRENCE -- Doctors testifying for prosecuting and defending attorneys agree Timothy Whitman was mentally ill four years ago.
But one doctor who evaluated him, Ira Packer, was unable to find any illness worse than severe depression.
In court yesterday, Packer said he disagreed with the other experts, who testified that the Newburyport man suffered a "psychotic break" when he picked up a knife and repeatedly stabbed two people on Sept. 14, 2001, killing Matthew Valli.
"I don't think it's a plausible explanation," Packer said. "He was not genuinely psychotic. The evidence did not support that assessment."
Packer was among the psychiatrists and psychologists to testify this week during Whitman's trial on charges of first-degree murder for the stabbing death of Valli, 21, and assault with intent to murder for the attack on Brooke Pelletier, then 19. The couple, said to be good friends of Whitman's, were attacked in their apartment at 16 Woodman Way, Apt. 5, Newburyport.
Whitman has admitted to the stabbings, but his attorney says mental illness caused the attacks and he cannot be held legally responsible.
Packer first met Whitman about a week after the stabbings, when he was sent to Bridgewater State Hospital for a psychiatric evaluation. Whitman arrived at the hospital the day of the murder and stayed for 40 days, Packer said.
The doctor interviewed Whitman five times during his stay, gave him three psychological tests and reviewed his police and medical records. By the time he was done with the evaluation, Packer was convinced Whitman knew what he was doing when he killed Valli.
Though he didn't think Whitman was completely faking his symptoms, Packer believed the murder suspect was trying to find a way out of being sent to prison for his crime.
"He was clearly motivated to justify why he really shouldn't be held responsible," Packer said. "There was no remorse. That was not consistent with what I could expect."
The voices Whitman reported hearing, which told him to attack his friends and "take them out," were questionable, according to Packer's testimony. Whitman's voices were different from those of truly psychotic people, who hear voices that sound like they are coming from somewhere else.
"He described it very differently," Packer said. "It was something that was inside his own head."
Packer did agree Whitman had a long-standing and well-documented disease: severe depression.
"I think he's had a mental illness for many years," Packer said.
But doctors hired by defense attorney Raymond Buso diagnosed Whitman with more serious mental disorders, including schizotypal personality disorder, similar to schizophrenia, and a possible chemical imbalance in his brain.
They pointed to unusual IQ tests conducted when Whitman was a child. The tests showed a 40-point spread between his verbal skills and his abilities to perform tasks such as puzzles. While he placed near the bottom on the verbal test, he scored at the top on the second part, showing something may be wrong with the left side of his brain, according to testimony.
Packer was called to the witness stand by prosecutor Gerald Shea to rebut to that testimony.
Judge Richard Welch will provide the jury with detailed instructions about the law regarding insanity after one more witness testifies and Shea and Buso give their closing arguments this morning.
The jury is expected to begin deliberations this afternoon.
Highlights -- Day 5
Timothy Whitman is charged with murder and assault in the Sept. 14, 2001, stabbing death of 21-year-old Matthew Valli and injury of Brooke Pelletier, then 20. Whitman is on trial before Judge Richard Welch in Lawrence Superior Court. Whitman has admitted to the stabbings, but has pleaded not guilty by reason of mental illness.
An expert witness called by the prosecution said Whitman for years has suffered from chronic depression, but disputed claims that a more serious mental illness caused the stabbings.
The voices Whitman describes inside his head are different from the descriptions by people suffering genuine psychotic breaks, who generally hear the voices as if they are coming from somewhere else, the doctor testified.
One more witness is expected to testify.
The jury will hear closing arguments by attorneys and detailed instructions from the judge on how to deal with the insanity defense.