Jury: Halcion Led to Murder, Awards $1.8 Million to Murderer's Family
Nov. 12, 1992
DALLAS (AP) _ A jury Thursday awarded the family of a convicted murderer up to $2.15 million after deciding the sleeping pill Halcion helped the man kill.
But the actual damage award, which still must be approved by a judge, is likely to be less because the jury split the blame for the killing among the man, his doctor and Upjohn Co., maker of the drug.
The Dallas County jury reached the decision after nearly two days of deliberation in the nation's first civil trial over the drug's alleged side effects. Similar cases against Upjohn, Halcion's maker, are pending around the country.
''We do disagree with the decision ... and we will pursue all available means of recourse,'' spokeswoman Kaye Bennett said from Upjohn headquarters at Kalamazoo, Mich.
The lawsuit was filed by William Freeman, former assistant police chief of Fort Stockton, Texas, and his family. They said Halcion altered Freeman's personality and caused him to kill his friend Donnie Hazelwood in 1987. He is serving a life prison term for the murder.
The Food and Drug Administration has reviewed Halcion several times since it was approved for use in 1982. It has become the most widely prescribed sleeping pill in the world and is sold in more than 90 countries.
But several countries, including Britain, have banned or restricted its use. Public Citizen, the private advocacy group led by Ralph Nader, petitioned the FDA in July to ban it in the United States.
An FDA advisory panel said in May the drug was safe but should carry stronger warnings about potential side effects.
Attorneys for Freeman and his family asked for more than $100 million in damages. But jurors awarded just over $2 million, none of it to Freeman, who they said was 50 percent responsible for the crime.
The jury said 30 percent of the blame is with Freeman's doctor and 20 percent is with Upjohn. The jury held the company negligent but said it didn't act with malice.
The division of responsibility left attorneys confused about who pays how much. In addition, Upjohn's attorneys said they were troubled by other conflicts in the decision.
''They essentially concluded Bill Freeman deserves to be in prison,'' said attorney Earle Austin. ''I don't see how it makes any sense that he is rightfully in jail and not damaged by being put there but his family is somehow damaged by his absence.''
Freeman began taking Halcion in early 1985 when he was having trouble sleeping after back surgery, according to testimony in the five-week trial.
Freeman's personality gradually changed, relatives testified, and he started experiencing amnesia, psychosis and paranoia, some of the drug's reported side effects.
Freeman, who was convicted in 1989, stopped taking the drug while in prison. Relatives said his personality returned to normal.