EL CAJON, Calif. - A Lakeside man accused of shooting his ex-wife and then trying to commit suicide by breathing in the fumes of a gas generator may have a new strategy as he heads into trial later this week.
Tim Danielson faces 50 years to life in the 2011 death of his wife Ming Qi, which happened in the Lakeside home they shared. According to testimony during his preliminary hearing, Danielson confessed to sending emails and making phone calls admitting he killed Qi.
10News learned Danielson was suffering from depression, which his defense attorneys believe was caused by the smoking cessation drug Chantix, which Danielson had begun taking weeks before Qi's death.
According to Chantix commercials and its own website, possible side effects include "hostility, agitation, depressed mood, suicidal thoughts or actions."
In pre-trial motions, the judge hearing Danielson's case agreed to allow expert testimony about what role the drug may have played on Danielson's mind. Danielson is expected to take the stand to tell jurors how Chantix affected him.
10News consulted criminal defense attorney Jan Ronis about how he thinks the so-called "Chantix defense" might play out in court. His answer wasn't very positive.
"Mental defenses are not very popular, but it sounds to me like it's the only defense there is and even that defense has been so restricted in the last 35 or 40 years in California," Ronis said.
Ronis explained that California law changed after the so-called "Twinkie defense" used by attorneys for Dan White, who was convicted in the assassination San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone in 1978. The defense ended in a lighter sentence for White, which outraged many, and led to a change in the law.
"Previously, it was called diminished capacity, now it's called diminished actuality," explained Ronis. "It's a murky area of law that still provides somewhat of a defense, and as I mentioned this may be an only defense if this is not a whodunit."
In an email, a Chantix spokesperson said the drug is an "effective treatment option for adult smokers who want to quit."
The spokesperson added that, "Pfizer is not a party to the criminal case against Timothy Danielson, and two tests performed on his blood samples found that he did not have any Chantix in his system at the time of the crime. Chantix has been studied extensively and there is no reliable scientific evidence that the medicine causes serious neuropsychiatric events like the violence in this case."
Jury selection in Danielson's trial begins Wednesday.