NEW YORK (AP) — Twenty years after lawyers for a San Francisco murder defendant hatched the so-called “Twinkie defense,” a man who shot three family members has taken the next logical step — the diet-drug defense.
Stephen Windorski Sr., 43, of Pine River, Minn., is suing the makers of the diet drug combination “fen-phen” for $24 million because he says the medication fueled the rage that led him to shoot his two sons and daughter-in-law.
Windorski said in court papers filed last week that after he started taking the drugs Pondimin and Ionamin in June 1995, he suffered memory loss, severe anxiety, emotional distress and violent moods.
On Oct. 14, 1995, after becoming increasingly anxious and aggressive, he opened fire and shot his two sons Preston and Stephen Jr., and his daughter-in-law Monica. He shot at his wife Carol but did not hit her; she suffered a minor injury while fleeing.
Windorski’s papers say that taking Pondimin, or fenfluramine, and Ionamin, or phentermine, caused him mental anguish because he had been told the drugs could cause him to develop heart and lung problems.
Windorski’s lawyer, Ronald Benjamin, said his client is manic-depressive, a condition that “fen-phen” aggravated. Benjamin said Windorski is a former construction worker who now weighs 250 pounds — down from 330.
Windorski, initially charged with attempted murder and assault, was allowed to plead guilty to lesser charges in a deal with prosecutors. He was sentenced to a year in jail and served eight months.
Family members told the court that they believed the violent episode was caused by the mix of diet and depression medications Windorski was taking.
Benjamin said the family members who were shot have recovered from their gunshot wounds but are suffering emotional problems. They are also party to the lawsuit.
The Windorski lawsuit names A.H. Robins Co., American Home Products Corp., and Medeva Pharmaceutical Inc. as defendants. It alleges that the companies “placed profit concerns over and above the safety of the public.”
Class action lawsuits against the makers of the diet drugs have been filed in several states. Many plaintiffs claimed they developed heart problems after using the products.
Audrey Ashby, spokeswoman for A.H. Robbins and its parent company American Home Products, makers of Pondimin, said she had no comment on the lawsuit.
Debra Rosenfield, vice president for strategic planning at Medeva, manufacturer of Ionamin, said 48 million prescriptions for that product have been written over the past 40 years.
“When used properly, it (Ionamin) is safe and effective,” Rosenfield said. She said it is not recommended for use with other diet products. As for the lawsuit itself, she said, she had not seen it and could not comment.
The lawsuit asks $20 million for Windorski in compensatory and exemplary damages; $1 million for his wife; and $1 million each for his sons and daughter-in-law.