A ticking bomb
Fetal alcohol legacy: mayhem and murder
FAS called common on death row
"What really surprised us was that the people with the higher IQs actually have more problems. Sometimes they look normal, so they don't fit into any of the traditional categories. They sometimes aren't diagnosed easily, and people call them lazy. They get into a lot of trouble."
- Pam Phipps, research manager of Fetal Alcohol and Drug Unit at the University of Washington, which has followed hundreds of people with FAS and FAE for as long as 25 years.
"These kids hit adolescence and begin to have conduct problems. They may become oppositional or defiant. They're treated differently by teachers, parents and police. We need to educate the police and other professionals on how they need to be handled."
- Kris Kaemingk , clinical neuropsychologist who works with children with FAS and FAE.
"As a child I lived in an apartment building in Poland. The apartment building's concierge lived in the basement with his two children. You couldn't play with them. They'd grab toys and throw them. They would throw my doll against a wall and break the furniture in my doll house. I would get pushed around. They had horrible tempers and were out of control. When I saw the article in the paper in the early '70s about FAS and saw the faces of victims, I thought, 'This is them.'"
- Dr. Anna Binkiewicz, University Medical Center pediatrician.
FAS and FAE sufferers 'consciously do the wrong thing'
Alcohol-related brain damage prevents some from forming well-developed consciences.
John Eastlack's grin at his murder trial may have been indicative of his fetal alcohol syndrome.
For some who start life drunk, the only future is a prison cell.
Among the problems associated with fetal alcohol syndrome, the most costly may be the impact on the criminal justice system.
Seventy-five percent of men with fetal alcohol effects get in trouble with the law, as do 55 percent of men with FAS, according to a study released last year.
For women, the rates are nearly as high.
For some, the crime is shoplifting.
For others, it is murder.
In what appears to be the first ruling of its kind, the death sentence of convicted Tucson killer John Patrick Eastlack was reversed by a Tucson judge this year, based in part on Eastlack's FAS. Eastlack, whose FAS wasn't diagnosed until this spring, will spend the rest of his life in prison.
Debbie Cohen, director of the New Jersey Office for Prevention of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, said alcohol-related brain damage prevents some people from forming well-developed consciences.
"There's a real, real difference in ethical issues with kids with FAS and FAE," Cohen said. "In my experience, people with FAS and FAE consciously do the wrong thing."
Cohen is a guardian for a child with FAE who has lived with her for two years.
"They are unable to really assess the consequences of their actions,'' she said.
People with FAS and FAE often cannot control their impulses, and have poor judgment. Mixed with poor self-esteem, the combination can mean trouble.
Patricia Tanner Halverson, a Tucson psychologist who evaluates delinquent children at Pima County Juvenile Court, believes as many as half of all delinquent children may have been exposed to alcohol prenatally.
And she believes an even higher percentage of adult criminals have prenatal alcohol damage.
Many are repeatedly in the criminal justice system.
"Their brain damage prevents them from learning from their past experiences," Tanner Halverson said. "They simply don't learn from their mistakes.
"Judges ask me, 'Why does this kid keep doing this over and over again?' Parents ask me, 'What's wrong with my child?' What this child has is the behavior of a person who's had too much to drink. And they don't ever have a chance to sober up."
Tanner Halverson said the lack of judgment and impulse control caused by prenatal alcohol damage also makes many of these children and adults easy victims.
"They have a very hard time making friends, so they tend to fall in with a crowd that accepts them and uses them," she said. "In a crime, they are often the fall guy, the patsy. When a group wants to steal a six-pack of beer, he's the guy they send in. He runs in, gets caught, and the others get away."