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Convicted of Statutory Rape, An Upjohn Heir May Get a Dose of His Family's Own Medicine

updated 02/27/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/27/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

As an heir to the Upjohn pharmaceutical fortune, Kalamazoo, Mich, real-estate developer Roger Gauntlett has long been a beneficiary of his entrepreneurial ancestor's success. Now he may find himself the unwilling recipient of an Upjohn product. Gauntlett, 43, has pleaded no contest to a charge that he sexually assaulted his stepdaughter, now 16, whom he was accused of repeatedly raping over a seven year period starting in 1974. Last month, Kalamazoo Circuit Court Judge Robert Borsos decided not to give Gauntlett a lengthy prison sentence for his crime. Instead, he ordered him to spend a year in the county jail and to take for five years regular doses of Up-john's Depo-Provera, a drug that lowers sexual appetite in men.

If the sentence withstands appeals, the Upjohn scion may travel to Baltimore's Johns Hopkins Hospital, where doctors have been providing Depo-Provera to sex offenders since 1966. Each week some 75 men convicted of sex crimes—pedophiles, sadists, voyeurs, exhibitionists and rapists—receive injections of the cloudy fluid. Some are in prison; Gauntlett, however, would eventually be allowed to walk the streets as long as he showed up for his regular fix.

Fred Berlin, the 42-year-old psychiatrist who co-directs the Hopkins program, vigorously defends Depo. "These men suffer terribly," he says. "You know there are people who can't stop eating or smoking. Well, there are also people who can't stop raping—unless they take Depo-Provera." The drug reduces the production of hormones that provoke sexual desire. As a result, Berlin says, only 10 percent of those who have received it have become repeat offenders. The normal rate of recidivism among sex offenders approaches 75 percent.

Most of Berlin's patients seem satisfied with the program. "Sex to me is not pleasant," says Larry Paoli, 39, a Maryland penitentiary lifer convicted of 11 rapes. "It's a burden. I used to leave my girlfriend's bed and go out to rape. The only thing that gives me relief, takes away those urges, is Depo-Provera." Another convicted rapist, William Howard, 38, says, "I plan to be on Depo-Provera for the rest of my life. They say maybe we can get cancer or high blood pressure from it. Well, that's a small risk to take to keep me a normal person. If they take away Depo-Provera, I'd rather they just put me in the gas chamber and drop the pellet. I'd want to die."

Such talk does little to appease Depo's detractors, who say Berlin's patients have a lot to gain by claiming the drug has cured them. Althea Grant, director of Detroit's Rape Counseling Center, doesn't believe any drug that lowers sex drive can prevent assaults. "People confuse power hunger with sex hunger," she says. "Rape is a violent act committed by somebody who wants control over his victim. He's not doing it because he wants sex."

There are other problems. Depo, developed as a female contraceptive, is used as such in 83 countries. But in the U.S., the FDA has refused to grant approval for that use, citing tests in which Depo proved carcinogenic in female lab animals. It's allowed as a male sex suppressant, although patients suffer side effects such as weight gain, muscle aches, high blood pressure and, possibly, cancer. Some critics charge that the choice of taking Depo or going to jail forces on sex offenders a potentially dangerous drug.

It's a choice more offenders may be forced to make: Experimental Depo programs have also been initiated in Oregon, California, Texas and Illinois. Berlin hopes that, over time, the programs will demonstrably reduce the number of sex offenses. "I'm trying to prevent these crimes," says Berlin, "by bringing things under control."

Whatever the projects' results, the news of Gauntlett's light sentence has been received in Kalamazoo with a storm of indignant letters to the papers. His victim's mother—who divorced Gauntlett last year—is silent, but not so the girl's father: "It's only because of Roger Gauntlett's position in the community that the judge sentenced him differently than anyone else. It's a little slap on the wrist. I want to hang that guy."

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