Court of Appeals Gives MacDonald Second Trial in Murder Case over Anti-smoking Drug

Court of Appeals Gives MacDonald Second Trial in Murder Case over Anti-smoking Drug

Nine hours after stabbing his comrade, Rick Bulmer, George D.B. MacDonald reflected on the act. "I snapped and didn't like it . . . it made me crazy."

'It', in this context, refers to Chantix – an anti-smoking drug, also known as Varenicline. MacDonald, an Army Pfc. and onetime Eagle Scout, attributes the stabbing to Chantix, which was prescribed to him one month before the 2008 incident.

Bulmer, a 23-year-old Army recruit at the time, was sleeping in his barracks the night of the attack and did not survive the stabbing; sustaining over 50 slash wounds from the 3-inch, double-edged knife, Bulmer died, leaving behind his wife and unborn child.

At the trial level, MacDonald was convicted of murder and sentenced to life without parole. In a surprising turn of events, however, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces – the nation's highest military appeals court – has ordered a new trial for MacDonald. All five members of the CAAF voted unanimously that the trial judge erred in failing to instruct jurors on "involuntary intoxication" as a possible defense.

"The [jury] members were not told that involuntary intoxication itself or in combination with [MacDonald's] other conditions could impact his ability to appreciate the nature and quality of wrongfulness of his act," Chief Judge James Baker wrote in the opinion. "As a result, we are left with reasonable doubt as to whether the absence of an instruction contributed to the verdict."

Although Chantix has been FDA-approved since 2006, consumers have complained to such a degree that in 2009, the FDA imposed its most severe warning, the "black box", on the Chantix label, alerting users to beware of side effects like hostility or agitation. Since then, the drug's manufacturer, Pfizer, has reported paying at least $299 million in the settlements of several thousand Chantix-related lawsuits.

"Chantix is an important, effective, FDA-approved treatment option for adult smokers who want to quit," Pfizer stated earlier this year. "Chantix is approved for use in more than 100 countries and has been prescribed to over 20 million patients worldwide, including more than 10 million in the United States."

While MacDonald's family remains "cautiously hopeful" as they await the upcoming trial, Bulmer's mother, Wendy Smith, anticipates it with dread. "To have another trial at Fort Benning, that's going to be harder than hell for us to get to."

Categories: Court of Appeals, Murder
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