NYU Professor Convicted of Manufacturing Drugs Retaliates by Poisoning Judge’s Wife

U.S. v. Buettner-Janusch, 500 F. Supp. 1285 (S.D.N.Y. 1980)

John Buettner-Janusch became an assistant professor at Yale in 1958, moved to Duke in 1965, and to New York University in 1973. On October 4, 1979, Buettner-Janusch was indicted for using his university lab to manufacture LSD and Quaaludes. Federal agents alleged that he required students to assist him, and that he used NYU funds to purchase materials for the drugs’ manufacture. Buettner-Janusch pleaded not guilty.

The trial began on July 1, 1980. Despite fourteen defense witnesses who lauded the doctor’s professional accomplishments, the prosecution prevailed with evidence taken from secret recordings and four informants. On July 16, the jury returned a guilty verdict, and on November 14, Judge Charles Brieant imposed a five-year prison sentence. Brieant stipulated that, considering Buettner-Janusch’s ill health, the defendant would immediately be eligible for parole. Buettner-Janusch served half his prison term.

On February 13, 1987, Judge Brieant’s wife, Virginia, opened a box of Godiva chocolates she and her husband received in the mail. She ate four and collapsed. Toxicology screening showed Mrs. Brieant had ingested a poisonous dose of atropine. The FBI found Buettner-Janusch’s right pinkie print on the candy box. Police intercepted two other boxes—sent to the doctor’s former NYU colleagues. Oddly, another chocolate in Brieant’s box contained the antidote to atropine (pilocarpine), as if the doctor were inducing his victim to play an unknowing game of roulette with her life.

This time he pleaded guilty to attempted murder. The 63-year-old defendant received a sentence of 40 years. He died in a prison medical facility four years later.