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Mother, School, Producer Battle Over Videotapes Of Teen-ager’s Suicide

April 13, 1987

AMHERST, Mass. (AP) _ Videotapes showing a teen-ager dying of cyanide poisoning during a live, closed-circuit TV show at Hampshire College are at the center of a three-way fight over who should get ownership of them.

The mother of 17-year-old Andrew L. Hermann, the college and the tapes’ producer have been arguing over them since they were made last April 16 by students who thought the teen-ager was joking when he collapsed on camera.

District Attorney Edward Etheredge’s office has possession of the tapes and has asked Hampshire County Superior Court to determine the rightful owner, but he said the parties are trying to work out an agreement in the meantime.

The producer, Philip Jackson, 24, now a senior at the progressive college, maintains the tapes belong to him because of a college policy granting ownership of academic work to students.

He said he has no intention of distributing the tapes.

″They’re not very graphic,″ he said. ″Somebody drinking a cup of fluid, walking offstage and lying down is not exactly what people are worried about.″

College attorney David Kaplan said the work was extracurricular rather than academic and the college intends to destroy the tapes.

″The college is particularly concerned that the sensitive and libelous material not be placed in the hands of individual(s) who intend to disseminate the contents,″ the school said in a court document.

An attorney for Hermann’s mother, Carolyn Clark, declined to comment.

Hermann, wearing a T-shirt and purple arm band, gave a speech about the increasing conservatism of the college before drinking cyanide-laced Kool-Aid from a mug, according to Jackson and court documents.

Hermann’s brother, Stephen, a co-host of the show, watched the performance along with others. The filmmakers busied themselves with credits, not realizing that the youngster lay dying, Jackson said.

″I had nightmares for a long time after that,″ he said.

Hermann, from nearby Belchertown, had dropped out of high school despite being known as an exceptional student in science and math. He was scheduled to enter the college in the fall.