Thursday, November 13, 2008

PTSD & the Criminal Justice System

There are a growing number of Veterans with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) that are entering the criminal justice system. Some say PTSD is merely being used as an "excuse" for people who make bad choices and don't want to be punished. Others recognize PTSD as a real, medical issue which, without proper treatment, can spiral out of control. I fall into that last category... and my position has been strengthened this week with knowledge of a sad situation now faced by one of our OIF Veterans and his family.

Because this case is currently being prepared for trial, I am changing the Veterans name and some of the details. For the purposes of this story, we'll call the Veteran "Hero Doe".

Hero Doe has a long, well-documented history of struggles with PTSD. Despite this disease, however, he is well-loved and respected by his family and friends. He has also been a "squeaky clean" citizen and had absolutely no criminal record... at least not until one hot summer morning. On that morning, he "broke" and long story short ended up in a gun battle with local law enforcement agents in which one officer and Hero himself were wounded.

Shortly before the incident, Hero had gone to see his mental health physician at the local VAMC (VA Medical Center) with numerous red flags that truly should have caused him to be kept for inpatient treatment. His complaints and pleas for help went unanswered. Instead, his prescription for Lorazepam (Ativan) was increased and he was sent home to "relax."

The day prior to the incident, Hero Doe exhibited signs of growing paranoia, including a flurry of almost nonsensical conversations. He was truly convinced that many in his household and surrounding community were "out to get him." He was more than out of sorts... he was desperately afraid of the storm building within his mind. He spent the day fearful, anxious, and headed toward a break down. His wife worried, as most would, but argued with herself... especially since his "qualified health professional" had said that all Hero needed was more drugs and less stress.

The next day, not long after being sent home from his VAMC, Hero woke and proceeded to initiate an unfounded argument with his wife. As the argument proceeded, he grabbed a loaded weapon and started shooting inside their home. His wife quickly fled outside and soon Hero followed. He continued shooting while dodging in and out of wooded areas and other places of "cover". He ducked and dodged... fully immersed in a fury of combat which resided only in his own mind. When the police arrived the battle continued until the officer and then Hero Doe were wounded.

Hero Doe has almost no memory of the entire event. He is now in jail awaiting trial on several felony counts and, if convicted, will spend the rest of his life in prison. He has been assigned a public defender with little knowledge of PTSD who has only seen his client twice in the months since he was assigned the case. The public defender has effectively dismissed the possibility of a PTSD-related defense... mostly because of his lack of knowledge or willingness to properly defend Hero... a person he sees only as a villain who went on a rampage.

Hero's wife (lets call her Loyal Doe), has struggled since his arrest to make sure her husband continue to receive proper medical care. Their family faces $50,000+ in medical bills and charges for property damage to surrounding structures. She has been left alone in a community of people who are ignorant of PTSD... some of whom say really kind things like "the cops should have turned him into dog meat," or "he should be taken out in the middle of no where and executed Hoffa style." Loyal has forced herself to keep going... to keep fighting... but her days are full of fear and longing. Her husband's service to his country has required a steep price.

I don't know if you are aware (I was not until we began helping this family), that Ativan carries with it warnings of violent behavior in people with existing psychiatric conditions as well as causing amnesia in many patients. There is a VA Staff Psychiatrist (Jonathan Shay) in Boston who even has Ativan listed under the "Things to Avoid" section of his article on PTSD medications for exactly this reason ( Hero was also taking several, high-level steroids for conditions caused by an adverse reaction to immunizations he was given prior to deployment. Because of these medications, he is considered "steroid dependent" (thus a prime candidate for possible Steroid Psychosis). But, Hero could have been given Lithium to offset the likelihood of Steroid Psychosis.

It would seem that this tragedy, the breakdown of a hero with no criminal record, was caused not only by PTSD but the unmonitored use of prescription drugs.

So now - I challenge those who say PTSD-related defenses are simply an "excuse" to convince me that Hero Doe chose to be given too much of a bad medication... that he chose not to receive adequate care and intervention when he asked for it... that he chose to do something that would cause him to be separated from the family he loves (perhaps for the rest of his life).

But, I also challenge those of us who know better. We're dealing with an obviously broken system, one which is not prepared to properly treat our heroes. So, what will we do?? Will we stand by and let other Heroes be villianized and destroyed?? Or, will we reach out, stand up, and demand that Hero Doe and all others suffering from PTSD receive adequate, timely, top-notch care for the wounds they received while defending our country? And, that when their wounds cause them to enter the Criminal Justice system, they are provided the passionate, well-educated defense they deserve?


  1. My name is Timothy Wayne Wright Jr. And I am requesting your assistance in the interest of justice.

    On May 6th 2008 I was incarcerated in Amherst county correctional system on a very high profile case. Since being booked I have maintained a plea of innocence and continue to do so.

    However, on October 4, 2008 I was found guilty on four charges and then on December 10 2008 I was sentenced to 63 years collectively. There was no evidence provided at trial to support these charges one of which included first degree murder. Not having money, my family and I were unable to hire sufficient lawyers or mount an extensive investigation to substantiate my innocence. We do not understand how I was denied justice and found guilty of a crime I did not commit, and how those in this country who can not afford expensive attorney’s or investigations or even expert witness to testify on our behalf still have the right to justice or a fair trial.

    Both during and after my trial I, my family and a close friend have come across very disturbing information re-guarding the handling, of the investigation and evidence in my case. Upon further investigation and research we have found incompetent and incomplete work by court appointed council investigators and the commonwealth of Virginia. We have also found that certain evidence was’ with held or denied that would of exonerated me and’ also a insufficient amount of evidence for which to convict me of such crimes.

    We still are attempting to prove my innocence and find justice by obtaining evidence and testimony to prove what happened and who was involved , we can not afford the necessary lawyers and investigators needed to obtain documentation ,evidence or testimony and therefore we turn to you asking for your help to prove my innocence and find justice in my case. Every attempt thus far to work through the courts , court appointed lawyers, police or investigators has been completely ignored or stonewalled in their attempt keep us from proving my innocence. We are denied access to any and all information regarding my case. I have verbally requested such items and also have written Greg Smith the court appointed lawyer to get no response. I have even provided power of attorney and other necessary documentation in order to please the courts and prosecutor Marsha Garst to be ignored or sent on yet another wild goose chase. I have been denied access to retrieve my contacts from my truck that has been in the custody of the Virginia state police is May 6th 2008 not to mention I have forced to continue to wear the same contacts which has caused irritation, infections no to mention the probability of damage to by eyes because of Mrs. Garst on going vendetta against me.

    1. The chief medical examiner who completed the autopsy report testified that the time of death could not be specified and therefore non – conclusive as to the time of death. The commonwealth then bought in two minor witnesses who gave conflicting testimony as to when they heard shots fired that night of the murder. The mother of these two minor children did testify that while sitting on the couch in the same house as the minors she did not hear any shots that evening. But that hearing shots was nothing different up around where they live .The minor’s testimony was the only evidence to be provided for assumption of the time of death. This according to the common wealth’s own expert witness could not be determined. One witness gave conflicting testimony to a time that the victim was seen on surveillance video there for could not have been the recipient of those shots. The second witness testified to hearing shots 5 – 15 minutes after the victim left surveillance. How ever these shots were heard only minutes from the point of surveillance and there the victim would have been well beyond that area.

    2. Mr. Kenneth Gill, a fingerprint analyst, testified that the only prints found on any evidence collected either at the scene of the crime or in connection to the crime, were those of Justin Davis the Amherst county deputies’ son. He also testified that there were no unidentifiable prints on any of the evidence.

    3. Mrs. Nicole Harold a science examined the DNA found on the black ball cap in which the mother of the minor children claimed to have found several days later. Mrs. Harold testified that the DNA was not mine.

    4. An FBI video expert hired by the commonwealth clearly stated that the video provided by the corner country market on RT.130 could not be used to make an accurate identification of the pick up truck photo given to him in order for him to find any similarities The color the length the height and width of the truck were all in question. It was also shown that the truck on the video was that of a smaller size pick up truck then my truck He testified that the truck on the video tires were a lot smaller then those seen in the photo given to him by the commonwealths attorney of my truck He stated that the tires and height of my truck were much larger then that of the truck on the video. This video was then rendered non – conclusive. However the district attorneys continued using it and dealt with it as though it had been rendered conclusive. Not once did my court appointed attorney object to this also Never at any time has Justin Davis in his many conflicting statements ever say that he pulled into the store parking lot then followed the victim out why is that because it did not happen it was not my truck I was not there.

    5. The gun that was said to have been used in the murder was never recovered. This gun was owned and carried by Justin Davis and the only evidence provided to connect that gun to the crime were casings that Justin Davis collected himself to provide as evidence to the Amherst county sheriffs department to connect that gun to the crime. This evidence was collect at the request of Lt Doss a 30 year veteran on the force who openly admitted that he has never handled an investigation in this manner He also admitted under oath that he took Justin’s word for it, that it was in deed the casings from his gun.

    6. Phone records provided and testimony by an Alltel local store manager of triangulation for the night of the murder, could not pin point my exact location however he did testify that I was in a 30 – 40 sq mile area. This area includes that of my friends home and my path of travel to my own home which were on opposite sides of the county compared to the scene of the crime When we requested to Alltel copies of my phone records we were denied such access I told Mr. Smith my lawyer to get copies of the text messages to prove I was on the phone at the time I am being accused of riding 80 miles an hour shooting a gun at another moving vehicle in during a fit of anger.

    7. I have request to my attorney about having a trajectory test done on the victims vehicle thus no ability to prove or disapprove the angle or height in which the shot was fired

    8. Even though I was `alleged to have committed the crime from inside my truck, no gun residue test or grs was ever done to my vehicle even after I begged them to do so. It was never tested or studied for flash burns or any other evidence to prove their theory or whether or not the vehicle was used in the crime or that I was even part of this crime

    9. When arrested my vehicle, property and home were searched for anything that could tie me to this crime and nothing has ever been found. However, Justin Davis the Amherst county deputy son’s home, property and vehicles were not searched until over three weeks later. His father deputy Davis testified in court that he him self search all of their properties the time laps from the date of the crime gave them the time needed to hide remove or tamper with any and all evidence.

    10. Mr. Hudson who was in the Lynchburg jail with Justin Davis testified that Davis bragged that he killed the victim Justin Baungardner and framed me for it. Mr. Hudson also testified that the state police agent Dino capuzzo came to see him twice to discourage him for testifying telling him he did not want to testify and that if he did and was under oath and was found to be a lie he could end up with a longer sentence . Mr. Hudson said it scared him because the length of his sentence was brought up twice in a very intimidating way He `decided to testify anyway because he did not want to see someone innocent punished but unfortunately proof of tampering with a witness was not enough.

    11. The only assumed eye witness testimony was that of Justin Davis an Amherst county deputy’s son accusing me of the crime and other things. However two major points were made at trial. The first being that prior to trial Justin Davis made six sworn statements that totally contradicted each other while either at the police station or in the preliminary hearing under oath the second was pointed out by the senior investigator for Amherst county police and that was the fact that he did not believe’ most of what Justin Davis stories and they were later proved to be false statements how ever’ the police department still arrested me based upon their deputies sons` story and I have been prosecuted based on that story

    12. Other witnesses were also proven to have made mutable statements some of these’ were under oath that also contradicted each other’ their witnesses also testified to the enormous pressure put on them by the police department and family to say that I could of committed this crime. The investigator for both Amherst county and the state police admitted under oath to telling witnesses that they all ready knew I committed the crime to direct statements that they already knew I have committed this crime with out a doubt. They openly admitted that they were some unprofessional inquiry and threats pressuring them to testify in a certain way.

    13. Mr. James Finney an inmate at the Amherst county jail, testified against me and said that he had heard me make an incriminating statement while in a jail church service on July 24th 2008 yet the second in command of the jail in Amherst county LT. Brizendino testified under oath and explained how the church services attendant’s are selected. The jail is divided into cell blocks and in each block there are several cells and in each cell there maybe several inmates. Each week only one block at a time can attend church services inmates from these cells may decide whether they desire to respond to the invitation of the minister to come or not. Mr. James Finny and I were not in the same block and there for could not have ever been in church together at any given date surveillance in the library where church services are held could be obtained to prove that but the jail refused and instead Lt Brizendino testified on my behalf.

    14. There were testimonies which were found non- conclusive or questionable due to the personal gain that the witness who was testifying may receive or had received in the past for giving jail information These people were given special treatment and major sentence reductions plea deals or money to testify against me as directed by the prosecutor and the state police investigators these so called witnesses used their fifteen minutes of fame telling the courts what they knew that would like to hear just so that they could be part of this high profile case. There was witness that basically bragged on stand about being a professional informant that has been paid large amount of money for their testimonies against several others with in the department of correction.

    15. The prosecution called three witnesses to identify me in which they could not. Even after looking through out the entire court room. These same witnesses and I have had numerous contacts in the past but even with me sitting no more then 15 feet from the stand they could not identify me. This upset the prosecutor at that point.

    16. During my case I was subject to constant major media coverage with in our small community that impacted me and my case. I spoke to my lawyer about my concern of a fair trial and requested a change of venue. During the entire investigation the information given to the press to report in the locale news papers and with channel 13 news Jeremy Mills was strictly done through the Amherst county sheriffs department if anything other then what they were told to report was reported Jeremy Mills from Channel 13 news told my family he was told that he would not be given access to any other stories in the future. All information that was reported was done only to prove and present me as guilty. While everyone in Amherst county was `shocked about this horrible crime and anxious to find out information to settle there own curiosity the press and t,v, reporters were only given information to print and broadcast under the strict guidance Of the Amherst county courts. Amherst police took the position that I was in deed guilty until proven innocence. and no negative information was reported or news coverage was given about Justin Davis after the initial arrest Amherst county police and courts closed ranks to try to clean up the on going negative publicity caused by their own deputies lawless attitudes

    17. Evidence that could have been used to exonerate and prove my innocence was purposefully edited or refused to be admitted into the trial even after asking my lawyer why he did not argue this point it seemed as if he had better things to do. The intent was to slant the remaining evidence to support a probable reason for me to have committed this crime With out given me the chance to prove other wise I was denied a fair trial right from the start when my family and I questioned my lawyer he told us that he didn’t have time to laymen.

    This being said, on may 6th 2008 Justin Davis the only so called witness to this horrible crime went to the Amherst county police to report that I had kidnapped him against his will threatened his life and that he watched me kill Justin Baumgartner. Justin Davis with the aid of his father an Amherst county deputy pm May 4th 2008 went to the Amherst county police and reported his gun stolen it was then with this information the Amherst county police department with out first attempting to hear my testimony that this entire case too shape from. Immediately after my arrest at the food lion parking lot which is not even two minutes the sheriffs department as I was taken into custody channel 13 news which is located 30 minutes south of Amherst was sitting there waiting for the coverage of them taken me into custody . This was broadcasted over and over on the news and in the papers that I was arrested for the murder and that a witness has come forward that being the Amherst county deputy’s son Justin Davis. My family and friends at this point contacted the Virginia state police to ask them to please take over the case Even with the obvious conflict of interest being that Justin Davis father was a Amherst county deputy, Jimmy Ayers and Lt Doss waited 12 days before doing so. In during these 12 days is when Justin Davis continued to contradict his testimonies changing his story 6 or more times about the events that evening after noticeably being groomed on what to say it was then the case was turned over to the state police

    After the state police got involved their jurisdiction was to investigate and further research my assumed guilt and locate evidence to make it all fit. The chief investigator of the state police Dino Cappuzzo testified in court that in this case it was not his responsibility to investigate the Amherst county police department and the way they handled the case, his job was to continue his research on me that was handed over to him by the Amherst police and to build a case from what he was given which had me as the guilty party. The investigator also testified that in the process of getting multiple statements from certain witness that they were told by Amherst County that I was indeed guilty of this murder and they were pressured to testify in a particular way that would incriminate me. Most of the witnesses said in their first statements that I was not involved neither did they believe I had anything to do with this crime.

    How is it then that I was found guilty when there was no conclusive evidence besides Justin Davis testimony and he while under oath each time changed his story 6 times At sentencing the victims mother told the jury that if they did not convict me that she feared for not only her life but their lives as well . What can be done and who will have the courage to stand up to the famous Amherst county lawless police department. I am grateful for the order we enjoy in our free land of the United States of America where everyone is protected by the truth that one is innocent till proven guilty .in my case I was denied this right and protection in which as a war veteran I fought for. the victim of a high profile trial by the media a prejudicial jury and a case that was completely mishandled in the most outrageous bias way known and set up by law enforcement protecting their own I have become part of the 10 – 15 % of the prisoners that who are indeed innocent yet I face 63 years in prison for a crime I did not commit There has also been many executed or now sit on death row because of such erroneous convictions

    As a result my wife children and family and I are requesting your help and that I be given a chance for a fair trial a competent counsel and a truly justice system I have requested many times for a change of venue but I have been ignored It is in our hope that you can be of assistance in upholding my rights and proving my innocence

    We thank you for your time and consideration and help


    Timothy Wayne Wright Jr.

  2. Hi, My name is Hector Maldonado. My nephew, Chris Goains is an Army vet who has been diagnosed with PTSD. In December of 2008, post diagnosis, Chris took a car from his apartment complex, and went riding in it. He had no permission to use the car, so it was at least unauthorized use. He was not caught while driving, but was picked up after he returned the car to the parking spot he had taken it from. He was not taking his meds consistently, and was in a poor family situation where he was not getting the familial support he needed. He was convicted of a state jail felony of theft of over $1500 dollars and under $20000. He served 65 days, and was released with time served, and no probation. Is there any way to get the convicction changed to a misdemeanor? Or to get it expunged? That on his record causes him to not be able to get jobs or training in the jobs that he has experience in, and can do. Is there a lawyer close to Orange, TX that can help us?