TAMPA — A court hearing Friday for Edward Covington, accused of mutilating and murdering his girlfriend and her two small children on Mother's Day 2008, provided a glimpse of his coming defense: Covington had gone off his "mood stabilizer" medications after losing his medical coverage and had fallen into an uncontrollable bipolar rage.
In the hearing, Covington's public defenders sought to show that Covington, who faces the death penalty, didn't intend to harm his girlfriend, Lisa Freiberg, and her children, Zachary, 7, and Savannah, 2. Rather, he suffered from manic depression, turned violent whenever he went off medications, and used cocaine and alcohol.
Covington, 39, a 6-foot-2, 280-pound ex-prison guard, sat impassively or smiled softly as a pharmacologist and Covington's ex-wife explained the nature of his bipolar rages.
Dr. Daniel Buffington, medical director of Clinical Pharmacology Inc., said Covington had been prescribed heavy doses of the mood-stabilizing drugs Seroquel and Depakote.
Those drugs are usually prescribed when less powerful bipolar medicines don't work.
Buffington said Covington had stopped taking the drugs for about two months after losing his medical coverage.
He got a temporary supply about two weeks before the murders, but Buffington said it wasn't enough time for the medicines to sufficiently take effect.
The drug disruption, combined with Covington's stress over losing medical coverage and his cocaine and alcohol abuse, created "a perfect storm," Assistant Public Defender Theda James said.
Covington's ex-wife, Cheri Tate, testified she had witnessed similar rages while they were married a few years before the murders.
She said Covington was nonviolent when he took his medications but got violently angry when he skipped dosages and used cocaine.
On Friday, Buffington said toxicology reports showed Covington had cocaine in his system as well as very high dosages of Seroquel and Depakote after his arrest.
The killings occurred Mother's Day, May 11, 2008. The bodies of the children and the mother were found the next day in their Lutz mobile home. They had been choked, beaten, stabbed and dismembered. One was decapitated. The family dog also lay dead. The hearings will continue before Hillsborough County Circuit Judge William Fuente in September. No trial date has been set.
John Barry can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3383.