A 21-year-old prep-school alumnus from Princeton, Mass., is fighting extradition to the United Kingdom for allegedly trying to murder a fellow American student at Scotland’s prestigious St. Andrews University by spiking his bottle of red wine with the ingredient used in antifreeze.
Alexander Hilton returned to the United States around March 18, 2011, less than two weeks after the alleged poisoning and just days after he was questioned by investigators in Scotland. He has been staying at his family’s home in Princeton and was arrested last week under an extradition treaty the United States has with the United Kingdom.
On Thursday in federal court in Boston, Hilton asked to be released on bail pending an extradition hearing, scheduled for March 7. A US magistrate judge is considering the request.
A graduate of St. John’s High School in Shrewsbury, Hilton at the time of the alleged poisoning was a sophomore studying economics and computing at the University of St. Andrews, the celebrated school where England’s Prince William met his wife, Kate Middleton, in 2001.
Authorities said Hilton gave a fellow student a bottle of red wine and encouraged him to drink it in drinking games in a dormitory room before a university ball, telling him it was a gift. Authorities allege that Hilton had spiked it with methanol, also known as methyl alcohol or wood alcohol, a sweet-smelling, colorless yet deadly, flammable liquid used in antifreeze.
The student, 19 at the time, suffered severe nausea and headaches for days and started to lose his vision before going to the hospital. He would have died if he had not sought medical help, authorities said, and he temporarily lost his eyesight from the poisoning.
“It’s an attempted murder case . . . a serious case, and we can’t lose sight of that,” said Assistant US Attorney David J. D’Addio, arguing Thursday against Hilton’s release on bail. “The evidence before us is Mr. Hilton deliberately poisoned a student at St. Andrew’s College.”
A family member of the victim, who is from Virginia, said the family did not want to comment because it did not want to interfere with the judicial process, but that it supports the prosecution of Hilton.
Authorities said they scanned Hilton’s computer after the poisoning and found that he had conducted Internet searches for information about combining alcohol and methanol. He also had a funnel in his dorm room, which he said was for drinking games.
The authorities did not disclose a motive for the alleged poisoning, but witnesses told investigators that Hilton had been acting strangely before and after the incident. He also told witnesses that he had past behavioral problems with students, according to the police report.
Hilton’s lawyer, Norman S. Zalkind, said that Hilton has denied any wrongdoing and that he will fight extradition to Scotland, arguing that the US treaty with the United Kingdom should be voided because it fails to guarantee a US citizen the rights that are preserved under the American judicial system.
“There are some profound constitutional issues in our case,” he said.
He also pleaded with US Magistrate Judge Jennifer Boal to release Hilton on bail pending the extradition hearing, saying he has a severe mental illness that he has suffered since childhood and that his condition has worsened since his arrest. He has been placed on suicide watch at the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Center in Central Falls, R.I., and stripped naked with only a blanket to keep him warm, Zalkind said. He has not been eating, he said.
Hilton, dressed in tan prison garb, did not comment during the proceeding Thursday. He bounced his knee repeatedly throughout, only stopping on occasion to look back at his family.
“He’s going to get sicker and sicker and sicker,” said Zalkind, arguing that Hilton was suffering from emotional troubles at the university, too. He said that Hilton stabilized after returning to his home in Princeton, where his mother is a homemaker and his father runs a management consulting business.
Hilton takes medications, has been seeing a therapist, and has improved, Zalkind said.
He pointed to the support of family members in the crowd, including Hilton’s girlfriend, saying, “These are good people; these people love their son. He will feel better. He will function better. He will do better.”
Zalkind described Hilton as a smart man, in the 99th percentile in his class, but with the socialization skills of a 14-year-old. Someone should have noticed his troubles when he began flunking classes, he said.
“He shouldn’t have been away; he should have been home,” Zalkind said.
D’Addio said that Scottish authorities, as well as the alleged victim and a witness in the case, have asked that Hilton be held without bail. He also questioned whether it was proper to release someone who suffers from the type of mental illness that Zalkind described, who has suffered from the illness since childhood, and who is accused of poisoning someone.
“Something more stringent than medication and therapy might be appropriate in this case,” D’Addio said, arguing that Hilton, perhaps, could be subjected to mandatory in-
patient treatment rather than being released or held in a jail.
Boal took the matter under advisement.