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Article Published: Thursday, February 05, 2004
Pill death triggers charge of murder
Adams DA: Alleged supplier knew risks for boy
By Kirk Mitchell
Denver Post Staff Writer
McDow: Boy who allegedly got drugs from him died Dec. 4.
In what may be the first case of its kind in Colorado, an Adams County man has been charged with first-degree murder after authorities say he supplied a teen with a lethal amount of anti-psychotic pills the boy was using to get high.
James Steven Keith McDow, 25, was arrested and charged Wednesday with first-degree murder, reckless child abuse resulting in death, seven counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor and selling a controlled substance to an undercover officer, Assistant Adams County District Attorney Steve Bernard said.
If convicted, McDow could face the death penalty.
The unusual murder charge comes, Adams County prosecutors say, because the suspect knew the drugs were dangerous, and he allegedly had given the teen the same drug a month earlier, sending him to the hospital. After the boy died, police say, McDow sold the same drugs to undercover police officers. And the boy's age was a deciding factor.
Oswald "Ozzie" Atkins, 15, died after taking 6 1/2 times the "therapeutic" level of Zyprexa, an anti-psychotic drug used by people with schizophrenia, Bernard said, citing Atkins' autopsy report.
"I submit that is a callous and hazardous act that merits very serious consequences," Bernard said Wednesday.
Several legal experts said they had never heard of a similar case in Colorado in which a drug supplier or dealer was charged with first-degree murder.
"That is extremely unusual," said Craig Silverman, a defense attorney and former Denver prosecutor. "I cannot recall a similar case in my 23 years of practice in Colorado."
Denver District Attorney Bill Ritter and Bernard also said they had never heard of such a case.
"It would be very unusual," Ritter said.
The boy's death comes as an increasing number of teens are turning to prescription drugs to get high.
Between 1991 and 2002, the use of barbiturates and tranquilizers doubled to about 7 percent, said Dr. Bruce Mendelson, a Colorado Department of Human Services researcher.
But the anti-psychotic drug Atkins used was the first time Mendelson said he had heard of its being abused by anyone.
The affidavit says that McDow met Atkins and several other teens at Thornton High School three months ago.
On Oct. 29, Atkins, two other boys and two girls went to McDow's apartment to get video-game equipment. McDow told Northglenn police that he then gave numerous anti-psychotic pills to Atkins and a 16-year-old friend of his, the arrest affidavit says.
While still in the apartment, Atkins and the 16-year-old boy were stumbling around and could barely move, McDow told police, according to the affidavit. The 16-year-old was later admitted to a hospital in a coma. Atkins was also hospitalized.
A few days later, Atkins' father, Art Atkins of Northglenn, said he confronted McDow about giving pills to his son. He told him to stay away. McDow denied giving drugs to his son, Art Atkins said.
"We read him the riot act," he said. "He knew the risks, especially after the last time."
Atkins said his son told him he used the drugs "just to feel good." And he promised to quit.
"I feel so foolish that I believed him," he said.
On Dec. 3, the same five teens returned to McDow's house, and McDow gave eight Zyprexa pills to Ozzie Atkins, the affidavit says.
The next morning, the teen was found dead at a friend's house, records show. An autopsy report showed that he had 490 nanograms per milliliter of Zyprexa in his system. Therapeutic levels range from 5 to 75 nanograms per milliliter.
The next day, when police interviewed McDow in his apartment, they found several prescription pill bottles, the affidavit says. Different doctors had written prescriptions for the same drug for McDow within weeks, it says.
In the December interview with police, McDow denied giving the drugs to Ozzie Atkins, saying that he wouldn't because Atkins and the 16-year-old boy nearly died in October after taking them. He said that the boys likely stole the drugs.
But during a second police interview in January, McDow admitted giving them the drugs, the document says.
"Even after hearing of this boy's death, Mr. McDow sold drugs to an undercover officer," Bernard said.
On two occasions, a female undercover officer posing as a student bought more than 100 pills from McDow, who told her not to take too many all at once "because a kid died from taking too many," the affidavit says.
Thornton High School principal Kerry Moynihan said health instructors will warn students about the dangers of abusing prescription drugs.
"This took us totally be surprise," Moynihan said. "We were not aware that kids were messing with this."
Art Atkins said his son was a football player and a good student up until a year ago.
He said 400 people, mostly students, attended his son's memorial service because he was a popular boy. More than 100 wrote notes to the family saying complimentary things about him, he said.
"He was just a great kid," he said.
I seriousely don't think it's 1st degree murder, I mean he didn't force him to take the pills, arrr. But anyways Heidi, I like your style and agree with everything you said.