Prosecutors said Metuchen woman poisoned ex’s coffee — but can’t prove it
A Metuchen mom is a free woman after prosecutors failed to prove that she tried to kill her ex by putting a psychoactive drug in his coffee.
Theresa Freis, 46, was arrested in June 2016 and charged with attempted murder. The Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office said she dumped clonazepam or some type of benzodiazepine in a man’s coffee. These types of drugs are used to treat seizures, insomnia and anxiety and are in Valium and Klonopin.
The man was the father of her child, who he was picking up at her house for his allotted parenting time, according to a court summary of a Family Court case. Instead, the man passed out and woke up from a coma three days later in the hospital.
Freis was indicted by a grand jury in 2016 but prosecutors in May of last year had the charges dropped, court records show, because their expert could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the man’s condition was caused by benzodiazepine poisoning instead of some other underlying medical condition.
In an appellate decision last week, judges also tossed a 2017 restraining order against Freis, saying that the Family Court judge who signed it was wrong to infer from the circumstantial evidence — as “significant and seemingly persuasive" as it may have been — that Freis had poisoned her ex.
The appellate decision this week deals with the 11-day Family Court trial over the ex’s request for that restraining order. The decision provides new details into Freis’ arrest, which made headlines in 2016.
According to the decision’s summary of the trial, the ex testified that he received a text from Freis a day before he was to pick up their child. It asked him whether he liked his coffee black or sweet. He testified that he thought the text was weird because she had never offered him refreshments and their interactions over the child were sometimes contentious.
On the following day, he said, he showed up and Freis was waiting for him with a cup of coffee. The father told authorities that their child poured what he believed was sugar into the cup. After he finished drinking it, his speech became slurred and he passed out. Freis attempted to call her father, who is a doctor, and then dialed 911, according to the appellate decision's summary. The man spent six days at JFK Medical Center in Edison.
Emergency room doctor Kamalakar Vanam testified that he believed the condition was “probably […] related to a metabolic encephalopathy, which is an altered mental status not related to a stroke.”
He said a urine test returned positive for benzodiazepines and the man reacted well to an antidote for benzodiazepine poisoning.
Vanam, however, could not say what caused the condition nor would the court allow him to speculate because he was not recognized as an expert witness.
Dr. Philip Kramer, a neurologist at JFK Medical Center, testified that "in medicine one is often not 100 percent sure" but he believed benzodiazepine poisoning caused the man’s condition because he had “no other explanation.”
Toxicologist Steven Marcus, testifying on behalf of Freis, said that the hospital’s urine test was insufficient and that he believed the man's condition was caused by a mini-stroke, not overdose.
Freis did not testify, citing her 5th Amendment right to remain silent.
The Family Court judge ruled that "that the circumstantial evidence is sufficient to conclude that the plaintiff's condition was caused by an overdose of benzodiazepine. Everything else had been ruled out."
The judge also concluded that "defendant, purposely or knowingly, poisoned plaintiff by administering benzodiazepine in his coffee."
A three-judge appellate panel disagreed. Their decision says the man and the court “lacked any support for a finding defendant committed an assault.”
“Plaintiff failed to present any expert testimony establishing that benzodiazepine was the proximate cause of his critical medical condition. Thus, the court was without sufficient evidence supporting its finding of a fact essential to its conclusion that defendant committed an assault: that plaintiff's critical medical condition was caused by benzodiazepine,” their decision says.
A spokeswoman for the prosecutor’s office has not yet returned a request for comment made Thursday.
Freis was represented in Family Court by Philip Nettl of the firm Benedict and Altman while her ex was represented by Joseph DiRienzo of the firm DiRienzo & DiRienzo.
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.