Archive for December 11th, 2009

Chris Benoit’s Dad to Author Muchnick, Part 2: WWE/McMahon Lawyer McDevitt and the Pennsylvania Coroner

Mike Benoit, father of the late Chris Benoit, has resumed his email correspondence with me. As recounted in the “Notes on Sources” in CHRIS & NANCY, Mike had stopped talking to me in the spring of 2008, in the middle of my research for the book.

“Both you and [WWE lawyer Jerry] McDevitt are not on my Christmas card list, believe me,” Mike wryly noted today.

But far more important is the substance of Mike’s new message to me:

Shortly after my son’s tragedy I traveled to Atlanta  to meet with my lawyers. While in Atlanta I wanted to visit Dr Kris Sperry. Dr Sperry is the chief ME  for Fayette County and was responsible for helping me make a decision to allow my son’s brain tissue to be examined. During my visit with Dr Sperry he told me about a call he received back in June 2007 from another ME. At the time the caller asked numerous questions about the tragedy and suggested to Dr Sperry that there was a very high probability that Daniel died first. Sperry dismissed the suggestion as he believed and shared with me at that time that Nancy died first then Daniel and then Chris. The ME at the time also encouraged Dr Sperry to test for fragile X in Daniel.

Fast forward February 2008 Dr Omalu is being questioned on the witness stand in the trial of Dr Cyril H. Wecht. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Dr Wecht was charged with 41 counts including mail fraud and theft from an organization receiving Federal funds. During Dr Omalu’s testimony he is asked by Dr Wecht’s lawyer if he was the doctor that had examined Chris Benoit’s brain. Dr Omalu thought at the time “where is this going”. Dr Wecht was acquitted on all charges.

As Paul Harvey used to say “and now the rest of the story.”

It turns out, according to my lawyers, that the ME that called Dr Sperry back in June 2007 was Dr Cyril Wecht. The lawyer that defended Dr Wecht in his 2008 trial was Jerry McDevitt. Do you think that Jerry would have asked Dr Wecht to make that call back in June of 2007? Would that be considered an attempt to obstruct justice? Jerry McDevitt is a smart man and I am sure he would not do that. The fact of the matter is that the ME in Fayette County never officially confirmed the sequence of death between Daniel and Nancy.  That could also raise some interesting questions and it is likely where Dr Wecht was going.

***

My analysis begins with minor corrections: Dr. Kris Sperry is chief medical examiner for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Dr. Cyril Wecht’s 2008 trial resulted in a hung jury, not acquittal.

Wecht, former coroner of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, is a story of his own. The prosecution of him was extremely controversial and included speculation that Wecht, a Democrat, had been targeted in a purely partisan fashion by U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan. Indeed, Buchanan became a poster child for widespread charges that the Bush Justice Department was politicized. After the hung-jury mistrial, Buchanan originally sought to retry Wecht, but she finally dropped the charges in June of this year after losing a key procedural ruling on evidence.

Jerry McDevitt was, indeed, Wecht’s defense lawyer. It gets better than that. In January 2008, Congressman Bobby Rush’s House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection held hearings on steroids in sports and sports entertainment. Every single invited head of a sports league or union or entertainment entity testified, with one exception: Vince McMahon of WWE (husband of WWE chief executive and current Connecticut U.S. Senate candidate Linda McMahon). McMahon explained that he was declining the invitation because McDevitt was unavailable to accompany him. And that was because McDevitt was preparing for the start of Dr. Wecht’s trial.

Irv Muchnick

Chris Benoit’s Father’s Bombshell: ‘We Still Have Seven Years to Decide on Whether to Sue WWE’

The previous post publishes my new exchange of emails with Mike Benoit, Chris’s father. This is the passage that jumped out at me:

“I do hope [your book] included McDevitt’s suggestion that my son was dealing drugs and that is why we never sued them. That man is just full of character and integrity. The fact of the matter is that the children have the option to bring legal action up to two years after their eighteenth birthday. In the case of Chris’s daughter that is seven years from now.”

Like  other observers, I was under the assumption that both sides of the family (both the Benoits and Nancy Benoit’s side, the Toffolonis) had a stautory deadline of two years after the double murder/suicide for filing civil wrongful-death lawsuits. That window closed this past summer. Just before the deadline, the Toffolonis, in U.S. District Court in Georgia, sued Chris’s doctor, Phil Astin (who is now serving a ten-year sentence in federal prison), and “Distributors X, Y, and Z.” World Wrestling Entertainment was not named.

The news – not confirmed to me by legal experts, but certainly asserted by Mike Benoit – that the Benoit side’s statutory deadline is the 18th birthday of Chris’s daughter from a previous marriage would scramble the dynamics of the case.

And since Mike Benoit’s focus is, and always has been, not drugs but the brain trauma from his son’s many untreated concussions, that is a significant development.

As noted in my book CHRIS & NANCY – and obvious again in this exchange – I may never satisfy Mr. Benoit with my take on the brain research. I think it’s there and it’s some undetermined part of the mix, and I’m watching closely for more. For his part, it is the answer.

During the book research I had a long conversation with Dr. Bennet Omalu, who studied Chris Benoit’s brain after it was secured by Chris Nowinski of the Sports Legacy Institute. I also read Omalu’s book Play Hard, Die Young: Football, Depression, Dementia and Death. Unfortunately, it is not a very good book. Omalu is less than scientifically convincing in his refusal even to engage the possible interplay between concussions and other factors, most notably steroids and painkillers. Omalu also does himself no favors with a mystical riff about what he believes were supernatural tricks played on him and his family by the brain of a deceased football player that Omalu was carrying in his car.

I must say that the article about the concussion issue in the October 19, 2009, issue of The New Yorker, by bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell, is more like it. Gladwell cites the work both of Omalu and of Dr. Ann McKee, who runs the neuropathology laboratory at Veterans Hospital in Bedford, Massachusetts. “McKee and Omalu are trying to make sense of the cases they’ve seen so far,” Gladwell wrote, and McKee feels that she won’t have a solid quantifying handle on the phenomenon called Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy until she has examined at least 50 ex-athletes’ brains. At this point we know that brains damaged in this fashion show abnormal patterns of tau protein. But I, personally, find it hard to believe that Andrew “Test” Martin, at 33, and Chris Benoit, at 40 (and with a much more reckless wrestling performance style), had identical damage.

We’re just getting started with this valuable research. The first part of that research, evidently, includes a necessary hype phase in order to gain adequate funding and support.

Though I hate even having to mix it into this post, let me also address Mike Benoit’s question about WWE lawyer Jerry McDevitt’s posthumous innuendo that Chris might have been a drug dealer. I do not get into that in CHRIS & NANCY because I found nothing to support it other than what McDevitt said in his email to me, which was part of a campaign of legal harassment by him while I was researching the book.

The full text of McDevitt’s emails are included in the DVD of supplementary materials that is being marketed as a companion to the book.  My exchange with McDevitt was also published in full at the time on this blog, and most recently republished in installments on my Twitter feed.

In my June 9, 2009, article for SLAM! Wrestling (viewable at http://slam.canoe.ca/Slam/Wrestling/GuestColumn/2009/06/08/9715336.html), I pointed out that part of McDevitt’s email could have had a chilling effect on any party tempted to file wrongful-death litigation as a kind of fishing expedition. Dr. Astin, McDevitt noted, was charged with not only prescribing an illegitimate amount of drugs to both Chris and Nancy Benoit, but also ‘with conspiracy with some of the recipients of his prescriptions to further distribute the drugs. As Michael Benoit surely knows, since he is the executor of the estate, the house where the murders were committed had no mortgage. Instead, the builder was paid by a series of payments totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars, and all payments were consistently made by Nancy Benoit from various accounts.’”

Irv Muchnick

Author Muchnick’s Email Exchange With Chris Benoit’s Father

Most of the exchange below with Mike Benoit, Chris’s father, is self-explanatory. In the next post I will discuss what I think is the newsworthy information in Mr. Benoit’s second message.

Irv Muchnick

==========

From: Mike Benoit
Subject: Andrew Martin
To: Irvin Muchnick
Date: Wednesday, December 9, 2009, 7:01 AM

Irv

Brain damage is the underlying cause of death in the wrestling industry. Jim Ross wrote in his blog that Andrew took drugs because he could not make it to the top of WWE. Andrew was taking drugs because of the pain he was in due to brain damage. At one time Andrew Martin was the WWE Hard Core Champion. If Eddy, Davey Boy,Pillman, Mike Durham the list goes on and on would have been tested they would have found brain damage. It leads to addictions and behavior issues that we continue to see in this industry.At least two of the above mentioned people had restraining orders placed against them because their wives feared for their lives. Are all wrestlers just real bad individuals? It is so unfortunate that all the people writing books and articles about these ongoing deaths just do not get it. We will continue to see young wrestlers die. Some will get tested and I will guarantee you that if they participated in hard core style matches during their career they will show signs of CTE.

Mike Benoit

*****

From: Irvin Muchnick
Sent: Thursday, December 10, 2009 6:46 AM
To: Mike Benoit
Subject: Re: Andrew Martin

Mike,

Thanks for your note. I hope you’re well. Do I have your permission to run your message in full on my blog?

In my book I said what I had to say about brain injuries. And I’m continuing to cover the story on my blog. Brain trauma is real and my assessment of it was and is honest, even if we disagree on whether I go far enough with it. I’m sorry that I don’t think a “single-bullet theory” for wrestling’s culture of death would be journalistically responsible, but I admire your advocacy in this very important aspect of the problem.

All best,
Irv

*****

From: Mike Benoit
Sent: Thursday, December 10, 2009 11:01 AM
To: Irvin Muchnick
Subject: Re: Andrew Martin

Irv

Feel free to print my previous message.

Andrew Martin took WWE up on their offer for rehab. Drugs killed Andrew there is no debating that but if Andrew did not have brain damage he would still be alive today. So would my son. Please help me understand why rehab does not work for people engaged in the wrestling industry. It is my personal belief that until you cure the brain damage you will never have a successful drug rehab program for wrestlers. CTE was first diagnosed in boxers back in the 1920’s. Steroids have been around since the late 50’s. I am not sure how you can make a connection there. Would you give pain killers to a family member that had brain damage and tell them to self medicate?

I have not had the opportunity to read your book. I do hope you included McDevitt’s suggestion that my son was dealing drugs and that is why we never sued them. That man is just full of character and integrity. The fact of the matter is that the children have the option to bring legal action up to two years after their eighteenth birthday. In the case of Chris’s daughter that is seven years from now. The bodies will continue to pile up and many will end up being tested. With the exception of a few they will have CTE as a result of the brain damage they sustained in the ring.

Brain damage is the the underlying cause of deaths in the wrestling industry. Stop the brain damage and you will stop 90% of the deaths. Do you also say that drugs not brain damage is the cause for all the NFL deaths? Please feel free to explain the difference to me.

Mike Benoit

*****

From: Irvin Muchnick
Sent: Thursday, December 10, 2009 1:14 PM
To: Mike Benoit
Subject: RE: Andrew Mart

Thanks, Mike. Please now let me know if I can reprint our exchange, including this second message of yours, which has newsworthy information. I’ll hold off on posting your first message until I’ve received your answer to this new request of mine.

Best,
Irv

*****

From: Mike Benoit
Sent: Thursday, December 10, 2009 12:22 PM
To: Irvin Muchnick
Subject: Re: Andrew Martin

Irv

Please be my guest and print it.

Mike Benoit


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