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Karyn Kay's Son Told Cops Beating Mom to Death Was a 'Mistake'

By DNAinfo Staff on April 11, 2012 2:08pm  | Updated on April 11, 2012 7:11pm

Karyn Kay
Karyn Kay
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Facebook/Karyn Kay

By Sonja Sharp, Leslie Albrecht, Tuan Nguyen and Tom Liddy

DNAinfo Staff

MANHATTAN — Karyn Kay's brutal murder in her Midtown apartment was a "mistake," her son allegedly told cops according to stunning court papers, as his lawyer blamed the horrific beating death of the high school teacher and filmmaker on the "heavy" epilepsy medication the teen was taking at his emotional arraignment Wednesday.

Lloyd Epstein called the bloody incident Tuesday morning at the West 55th Street home that Kay, a LaGuardia High School English teacher and Pratt Institute instructor, shared with her 19-year-old son, Henry Wachtel, "tragic."

"Everyone knows that Henry is an epileptic that takes medication, there are and sometimes frightening consequences that occur from taking the medication or not taking the medication," he said outside court.

Henry Wachtel in the back of a police car after being led from the Midtown North Precinct on Tuesday, April 10, 2012.
Henry Wachtel in the back of a police car after being led from the Midtown North Precinct on Tuesday, April 10, 2012.
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DNAinfo/Jefferson Siegel

When asked whether Wachtel's dosage and type of medication had changed recently, Epstein said the teen was taking the anti-seizure medication Keppra "and a few other medications" but declined to comment further.

Keppra can cause a "worsening of mood," especially if a patient has an underlying condition, such as depression, said Dr. Alan Ettinger, Epilepsy Director of Neurological Surgery, P.C. of Long Island and a member of the National Epilepsy Foundation.

Heartrending details of the fatal skirmish between the Fordham University student and his mom at their West 55th Street apartment were revealed at his arraignment in Manhattan Criminal Court Wednesday afternoon.

Prosecutors said that Wachtel could be heard on a 911 recording beating his mom to death with his fists after she called to get help for her seizing son.

"He's coming after me, No! No! No!," Kay told the operator, according to prosecutors.

Afterward, prosecutors said screams from both a man and woman could be heard on the recording along with grunts, followed by a male voice "screaming, 'Mommy, Mommy, please don't die!'"

While the 10-minute call was described in court, Wachtel, who was wearing a Chicago Bears T-shirt, hung his head and appeared to weep.

When authorities arrived at the apartment, they found the wild-eyed suspect covered in blood and apparently very agitated, prosecutors said. According to court documents, he had "recent scratch marks" on his body and arms.

Kay was discovered unconscious in a pool of blood on the kitchen floor.  Sources said that she suffered facial and rib fractures as well as internal bleeding.

The mom was rushed to New York Hospital, where she died just before 2 p.m.

When Wachtel was asked by police "what happened," he allegedly responded: "It was a mistake."

But the teen's lawyer said that the prosecution didn't establish the intent that's necessary for murder.

"His mother died under tragic circumstances and he's very upset," Epstein said. "He's upset about his mother — he's upset about his mother dying."

When he was asked about whether Wachtel had a history of violence, Epstein said: "I don't think I've ever run into a situation where a teenager and his mother did not argue."

Sources said the teen did not have a criminal record and that there were no reports of domestic violence at the house.

And one neighbor who lived in Wachtel's building described him as a "gentleman" who frequently spoke to his children.

"It's disturbing to see how the media is portraying him like a monster," he said.

Judge Michelle Armstrong ordered Wachtel was held without bail on a single count of second degree murder. Kay's father, Edward Wachtel, a Fordham University professor who was divorced from Henry Wachtel's mom, did not speak to reporters as he left the courthouse.

Wachtel once appeared in a film about troubled New York City teens, "Our Time."  According to the description for film's Kickstarter campaign, the movie, which is "based on the real life stories of the two stars": "follows [the main characters] Derek and Tyler over a day in their lives, dealing with their troubled presents and the impending crossover to adulthood that threatens to fracture their friendship."

Experts said that people with epilepsy sometimes struggle with anger or aggressiveness, and medications can make them irritable. Sometimes — though rarely — they can become delusional or agitated in the minutes, or days, following a seizure.

"Sometimes after a seizure people can be confused, and some people can be agitated to the point where they become violent," Dr. Derek Chong of the Columbia University Epilepsy Center told DNAinfo.  But the violence is rarely directed at specific people, he added.

The ongoing psychological toll of having a seizure disorder that strikes without warning can also lead to troubles with anger management, Chong said.

"People can seem very normal, but have all sorts of internal problems," Chong said.

But he noted that extreme anger and aggressiveness are rare among people with epilepsy, and that most people with seizure disorders live normal lives.

Chong said he's seen rare instances where medications can create swift, profound personality changes in patients.

"We've had patients who are angels and we’ve had to get restraining orders two months later," he added.

According to Dr. Ettinger, people with epilepsy have higher rates of depression, anxiety and psychosis than the general population.

But it would be irresponsible to make a direct link between epilepsy and violent behavior, Ettinger said.

People with epilepsy can sometimes become confused and lash out after a seizure, but it's rare, and the agitation isn't usually directed at a specific person.

"Purposeful acts of violence toward another individual due to seizures is extraordinarily rare and unusual," Ettinger said.

"My biggest concern is that people will come away from this as a story of an alleged seizure that resulted in a murder," Ettinger said. "Nothing could be further from the truth."