A judge ruled Tuesday that the government negligently caused and then covered up its role in the death of a mental patient who was given hallucinogenic drugs in secret Army experiments during the 1950s. She awarded the man's estate more than $700,000 in damages.
In a sharply worded, 106-page opinion, U.S. District Judge Constance Baker Motley detailed what she called a 20-year conspiracy by the Army, the Justice Department and the New York state attorney general's office to conceal events surrounding the death of Harold Blauer.
Motley, in awarding $702,044 to Blauer's estate, said he died "as a guinea pig in an experiment to test potential chemical warfare agents for the U.S. Army."
Assistant U.S. Atty. Beth A. Kaswan, who represented the government, said her office was reviewing the ruling and would have to consult Justice Department and Army officials in Washington before deciding whether to appeal.
Blauer, 42, a tennis pro, died on Jan. 8, 1953, from one in a series of mescaline derivatives he was given at the New York State Psychiatric Institute, the ruling said.
The drugs were administered to Blauer as part of a classified contract the state-run institute had with the Army Chemical Corps for evaluating the effects of potential chemical warfare agents.
Blauer was admitted voluntarily to the institute in December, 1952, suffering from severe depression after a divorce. He later was diagnosed as a pseudo-neurotic schizophrenic, but was responding to therapy.
"When Blauer died, he was scheduled to be released in a matter of weeks," Motley wrote. Although he knew that he was receiving experimental drugs, he "certainly had no idea he was being used in an experiment to develop chemical warfare agents," the judge wrote.
His medical records were tampered with, trial evidence showed.
"They made it appear that Blauer's death, while triggered by the injection, was really caused by a weak heart," the opinion said.
Elizabeth Barrett, 46, of Manhattan, Blauer's eldest daughter, launched a series of suits against the government and numerous federal and state employees. Three suits were consolidated and went to trial before Motley last October.