Ex-marshal's appeal in MKULTRA LSD case is denied
A federal appeals court, with misgivings, ruled Monday that a former deputy marshal failed to prove he had been drugged with LSD as part of a then-secret CIA mind-control program before trying to hold up a San Francisco bar in 1957.
While upholding a federal judge's dismissal of Wayne Ritchie's lawsuit, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said it was "quite possible'' that Ritchie was telling the truth -- that the CIA, which later admitted testing LSD on unwitting U.S. citizens, had slipped the drug into his drink at a Christmas party, as a federal agent hinted in sworn testimony.
"This is a troubling case,'' Judge Alex Kozinski said in the 3-0 ruling. "If Ritchie's claims are indeed true, he has paid a terrible price in the name of national security.''
But he said there was evidence to support U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel's conclusion that the more likely cause of Ritchie's behavior was "some undiagnosed organic condition,'' possibly aggravated by alcohol he drank that day.
Ritchie, now 79 and living in San Jose, was a 30-year-old deputy U.S. marshal and Marine Corps veteran with a spotless record in December 1957. According to his testimony, he had four or five bourbon and sodas over several hours, left the Christmas party, and soon started feeling overwhelmed by paranoia and a feeling of worthlessness.
He retrieved his two revolvers from his office, tried to rob a bar in the Fillmore district, got distracted and was hit over the head and knocked unconscious. Ritchie pleaded guilty to attempted robbery and was fined $500. He quit his job and worked as a house painter for the next 34 years.
In 1999, Ritchie read a newspaper article about the Cold War program known as MKULTRA and concluded he may have been one of its victims. [bAccording to congressional testimony and other records, federal agents, looking unsuccessfully for methods to control human consciousness, gave mind-altering drugs to volunteers and unknowing subjects for at least a decade, starting in the early 1950s. [/b]
The government paid $750,000 to the widow of one MKULTRA subject who committed suicide in 1953.
MKULTRA agent Ike Feldman, who worked in San Francisco, told Ritchie's lawyer, Sidney Bender, in a sworn deposition that he had drugged 10 to 12 people. Apparently referring to his subjects, he said, "You just back away and let them worry, like this nitwit, Ritchie,'' who had been given "a full head'' and "deserved to suffer.''
But Patel said Bender had never asked Feldman directly whether he drugged Ritchie. She also said Ritchie, who knew Feldman, did not recall seeing him at the party. The judge noted that Ritchie admitted he had a plausible motive for the robbery -- getting money to buy his girlfriend a plane ticket -- although he also said he had expected to be caught and imprisoned.
In Monday's ruling, the appeals court said Feldman may have been admitting that he drugged Ritchie, but he also could have been speaking sarcastically, imprecisely or untruthfully, and it was up to Ritchie's lawyer to pin him down.
Kozinski said Patel, who dismissed the suit after hearing Ritchie's side of the case in a nonjury trial last year, was not clearly wrong in her conclusion that Ritchie had failed to prove he was drugged. Kozinski also said the CIA's destruction of documents about MKULTRA did not require Patel to rule in Ritchie's favor as a penalty against the government.
Bender said he would appeal the ruling. He said Feldman's deposition should have been enough to confirm Ritchie's story.
"He admitted drugging Ritchie,'' Bender said. "That wasn't ambiguous. ... It was plain English.''
Ex-marshal's appeal in LSD case is denied
Bob Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 27, 2006