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Lawyer questions 'Red Bull defense' in murder case

ST. PETERSBURG — Did a "Red Bull defense" lead prosecutors to conclude that a murder suspect is not guilty by reason of insanity?

That's one of several questions raised by lawyer Allen P. Allweiss. He's working with Thomas Coffeen, the brother of the murder suspect and the son of the victim. Stephen Coffeen was arrested in 2009 on a charge of killing their father by smothering him.

The Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office has said it's leaning toward accepting an insanity defense for Stephen Coffeen, based on the conclusions of two doctors who said he was insane at the time; and on circumstances surrounding the killing itself.

A final decision hasn't been made.

Allweiss, a veteran lawyer and who was a longtime prosecutor, points to the transcript of a bond reduction hearing in which Red Bull, a high-caffeine beverage, factored into a doctor's evaluation of Stephen Coffeen.

In the hearing last February, psychiatrist Karl Jones said Stephen Coffeen had suffered a "psychotic break" and had underlying signs of depression at the time of the killing.

In questioning from Assistant State Attorney Patricia Manteiga, Jones said Stephen Coffeen had suffered sleep deprivation, which "led to his psychosis and it was accelerated by his use of Red Bull."

Manteiga asked, "So because he was sleep deprived, he actually went into an alternate reality and killed his own father?"

Jones said yes.

She asked later: "So your final conclusion was the sleep deprivation and the Red Bull led him to killing his father?"

Jones said yes.

Thomas Coffeen on Monday sent a letter to Circuit Judge Nancy Moate Ley strongly disagreeing with his brother's insanity defense. He concluded his letter this way: "And since when is being tired, and high on an energy drink, an excuse for cold blooded murder, anyway?"

It wasn't immediately clear how big a role the Red Bull theory has played in the murder case.

The testimony about Red Bull came during the bond reduction hearing. The purpose of the hearing was for a judge to decide whether Stephen Coffeen should be released from the Pinellas County Jail on bail. At that point, prosecutors were arguing that he should remain locked up. The judge ordered him to remain behind bars without bail. The judge wasn't considering Stephen Coffeen's insanity defense for the killing itself.

Allweiss said he believes Jones did the formal evaluation for Stephen Coffeen's defense, but he wasn't sure. Defense attorney George Tragos declined to say.

Another doctor hired by the state also evaluated Coffeen, but it wasn't known whether he found sleep deprivation or Red Bull to be relevant. Neither of the doctors' formal evaluations are part of the public court file.

Allweiss said he believes the state should hire additional doctors to further evaluate Stephen Coffeen. He also would like the State Attorney's Office to have a face-to-face meeting with Thomas Coffeen, who isn't only the son of the man who was killed, but also an important witness in the case, because he spoke to Stephen Coffeen right after the killing.

A hearing is set for Feb. 17.

Thomas Coffeen also has filed a lawsuit seeking to prevent Stephen Coffeen from sharing in the inheritance from his father.

Curtis Krueger can be reached at (727) 893-8232 or ckrueger@sptimes.com.

Lawyer questions 'Red Bull defense' in murder case 02/07/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 8, 2011 7:06am]
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