1. Education
Debbie Hadley

Did a Tick Bite Lead Suspect to Commit a Violent Homicide?

By March 9, 2009

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Yesterday, 27-year-old Terry Joe Sedlacek walked into an Illinois church and fired four gunshots at Rev. Fred Winters, killing him. He then attempted to stab himself in the throat as congregants restrained him.

This isn't the first time Sedlacek has made news, however. Just last August, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported on Sedlacek's battle with Lyme disease, a tick-borne ailment that had once put him in a coma. While Lyme affects different people different ways, Sedlacek's brain took the brunt of his infection. He wasn't himself, he couldn't speak properly, and his brain developed lesions. It took four years for doctors to find the cause of his complaints. Family members say Sedlacek became mentally ill as a result of the blacklegged tick bite.

In 1978, I suffered the first of a series of mysterious symptoms that changed the course of my life in many ways. After eight years of odd ailments and trips to various specialists, I was finally diagnosed with Lyme disease. Thirty years later, there's still no consensus among my doctors regarding which issues are Lyme-related and which aren't, and how to treat them. And, it seems, there's no consensus within the medical community about when to test for Lyme, and when it's unwarranted. Hearing Sedlacek's story, I'm grateful that my problems have been mostly musculo-skeletal, rather than neurological.

Sedlacek's attorney has already started building a Lyme disease defense. He blames his client's erratic behavior and mental illness on the Lyme infection. Dr. Eugene Shapiro, a Yale University Lyme expert, doesn't believe the disease could drive someone to such violence. The stage is set for a courtroom debate - did a tick bite lead Mr. Sedlacek to commit such a violent act? And if it did, how could this change the verdict in the case?

I'll admit, hearing about his Lyme disease experience gave me pause. I wonder how Sedlacek's life would be different had he not been bitten by that tiny tick ten years ago. And I wish some doctor he'd met along the way had thought to do a Lyme test, and maybe even give him a course of antibiotics, just in case. But I don't know if I can go so far as to relieve him of guilt for such a violent act, even knowing his medical history. What do you think?


March 9, 2009 at 3:40 pm
(1) Jennifer says:

No matter what causes it, some mental illness is a defense, if the person is incapable of understanding the consequences of his actions, or whatever that lawyer-speak stuff is.

March 9, 2009 at 3:46 pm
(2) Charlie says:

Agree with Jen. Seems to me that the issue of how this guy became mentally ill is immaterial… the question is, is he or isn’t he?

Of course… the fact that this guy’s lawyer is the only person suggesting that tick bites lead directly to murder/suicide attempts makes the whole thing seem more than a little bit fishy.

March 9, 2009 at 5:05 pm
(3) Sukhmandir Kaur says:

Any one is capable of having mental lapses which can lead to hosts of problems but we are all responisble for the ultimate consequences of our actions. If the guy is saying he went nuts because of Lymes Disease, he still needs to take responsibility for what he has done and not try to use illness as an excuse to get away with murder. Especially if the disease is untreatable or irreversable he needs to be restrained from doing further harm.

March 9, 2009 at 6:25 pm
(4) SusanAdcox says:

I think that there is a lot that we don’t know about this story. It could be that there is a “back story” which has not yet been revealed. In the absence of such a story, I think mental illness is the most likely explanation. Whether it was caused by the Lyme disease isn’t really important, but I think juries tend to have more sympathy for someone whose mental illness is the result of some infection or trauma rather than those that arise spontaneously. I’m not sure that should be so, but I think it is so, and I think that is what the lawyer is banking on.

March 11, 2009 at 7:45 am
(5) Beth says:

Biologically-based mental illness is not a choice on the part of the one who suffers from it, including those who are facing such disorders as Alzheimer’s. As one who has studied this issue professionally, I can tell you without a doubt that brain dysfunction can turn a person’s personality and behavior inside out, and those lesions are definitely evidence of brain damage.

Whether or not he should take the full burden of responsibility is more than can be known from the data here. However, to the question should the Lyme be taken into consideration? Absolutely.

March 14, 2009 at 9:35 pm
(6) KNA says:

These are great comments. I would just like to point this out: Eugene Shapiro was part of a guideline writing committee which created very, very narrow guidlines for the treatment of Lyme disease – and this committe has been cited for major, major conflicts of interest by the Attorney General of Connecticut. Roughly 10,300 scientific studies are in direct contradiction to claims that Shapiro and a handful of others have been making about Lyme disease. Shapiro has ulterior motives for his claims that Lyme is “Hard to catch and easy to cure”. And insurance companies – they absolutely LOVE Shapiro – and they pay him big money (some estimates show figures from $650-$850 an hour) to make these claims – so the insurance companies can get out of paying for the sometimes long-term treatments that are needed in some chronic and severe cases, such as Abernathy’s case. In my opinion – the blood of this pastor is now on Shapiro’s hands, and the greedy insurance companies who work with him to stifle and supress the vast, vast body of science that is out there which refutes them in their stand.

March 18, 2009 at 8:26 am
(7) chris says:

The chimp that went berserk in Connecticut also had lyme disease…

June 12, 2009 at 7:15 am
(8) Flea Meds says:

If we suffered by the tick bites then we should immediately take steps and should go to doctor and you should have complete check up….

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