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Judge reiterates decision to allow Zoloft defense

A Nassau judge reiterated her earlier decision to allow a Coram man to use the so-called Zoloft defense at his upcoming trial.

The attorney for Brandon Hampson, 39, of Coram, plans to argue that once the defendant discontinued use of the antidepressant medication, he became violent and beat his ex-girlfriend.

District Court Judge Rhonda Fischer said Friday, for the second time, she will permit a defense expert witness, a psychiatrist, to testify at trial that a withdrawal from Zoloft, a widely prescribed antidepressant, could cause a person to become hostile and aggressive.

"I think it was the right decision," said defense attorney Eric Bernstein of Manhattan.

Bernstein's client, Hampson, is accused of punching and kicking his former girlfriend, Lisa Essling, 28, of Malverne, on Aug. 25, 2006.

Hampson "had stopped taking Zoloft" at least several days before he attacked Essling and the withdrawal from the pill made him violent, Bernstein said.

Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice's office tried unsuccessfully to prevent the defense's psychiatrist, Dr. Stefan Kruszewski of Harrisburg, Pa., from testifying at Hampson's trial. Then Rice's office challenged Fischer's decision, saying the judge overlooked evidence that discredited Kruszewski's testimony and asked Fischer to revisit the issue.

"Their expert's opinion lacks any scientific credibility and is completely unsubstantiated from a pharmaceutical standpoint, so we strongly disagree with the court on this issue and we don't expect its adoption in future cases," Rice's spokesman, Eric Phillips, said Friday.

Jury selection is scheduled to begin Sept. 8.

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