Trial begins in Monroeville cheerleader's stabbing death

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The trial of a Monroeville man charged with killing a Gateway High School cheerleader began this afternoon with John Mullarkey's attorney claiming the acne drug Accutane had a role in his client's mental state at the time of the killing.

Attorney Robert E. Stewart didn't deny that Mr. Mullarkey, 20, stabbed 16-year-old Demi Cuccia 16 times on Aug. 15, 2007, before trying to take his own life.

But in his opening statement, Mr. Stewart said the crime wasn't first-degree murder because Mr. Mullarkey didn't intend to kill Demi -- his on-again, off-again girlfriend -- and things just spun out of control when they got into a fight. One of the reasons, Mr. Stewart said, was that Mr. Mullarkey had recently stopped using Accutane.

"I am not standing here and saying that this is it -- the Accutane did it," Mr. Stewart said. "No, that is one component."

Asking the jury for a first-degree murder conviction in his opening statement, Deputy District Attorney Mark V. Tranquilli scoffed at the idea that a "pimple pill" could cause a homicide.

"John Mullarkey wants to redirect the blame from himself -- the man who wielded the knife -- to a faceless prescriptive drug that cures pimples," Mr. Tranquilli said.

Mr. Tranquilli said he would call about 12 witnesses in the case. He and Mr. Stewart are expected to call competing experts about the effects of Accutane.

This trial is believed to be the first in which Accutane was used in a murder defense. The drug, which treats persistent acne, has been blamed by some advocates for depression and suicides.

Daniel Malloy can be reached at or 412-263-1731.


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