LE MARS, Iowa -- Less than an hour before emergency personnel were called to his sister's home, Thomas Bibler took a sleeping pill along with his other evening medications.
In a surprise move, Bibler briefly took the witness stand Wednesday in his own defense to answer questions about his use of the prescribed sleeping aid Ambien, which a psychologist has testified may have caused Bibler to slip into a hypnotic state and could explain why, if he did fatally stab his sister Shannon Bogh, he has no memory of it.
During his testimony, Bibler told his attorney, public defender Billy Oyadare, that he remembered taking Ambien, lithium and another medication, the name which he couldn't remember, on the night of June 11, 2016.
"I took them 20-30 minutes before I left work," Bibler, 35, said in Plymouth County District Court during the fifth day of his trial on charges of first-degree murder, willful injury and going armed with intent for the stabbing death of Bogh more than two years ago. He is accused of stabbing Bogh outside her Le Mars home. An autopsy showed that Bogh, 27, died of internal bleeding after a major vein in her chest was cut by a sharp object.
Earlier testimony revealed that Bibler had clocked out of work at Lally's Eastside Restaurant in Le Mars at 7:48 p.m. The 911 call from Bogh's home was made at 8:09 p.m.
During his cross examination of Bibler, Plymouth County Attorney Darin Raymond asked him if he had reviewed all previous witness statements and listened to witnesses who have testified during the previous four days of trial. None of them mentioned seeing Bibler take any medication while at work, as Bibler claimed.
"You didn't even have a prescription for Ambien, did you?" Raymond asked.
"Not a current one," Bibler said.
Bibler said he had stopped taking the sleeping pill but still had some left from a previous prescription that he took on occasion. He said he didn't report it as medication when he was booked into jail because he didn't take it every day.
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"Nobody asked me if I took it," Bibler said.
On Tuesday, a psychologist testified that she had read several studies that linked Ambien with sudden violent acts, including homicide, committed by users who had no memory of committing them.
On Wednesday, a University of South Dakota pharmacology professor testified that amnesia is one possible adverse reaction to taking zolpidem, the name of the drug that's sold under the brand name Ambien. Those effects can be heightened when interacting with other drugs a person is taking, said Steven Waller, associate dean of basic sciences at USD's Sanford School of Medicine.
"There can be significant reactions," Waller said.
In Bibler's case, Waller said, the Ambien likely could have interacted with an antipsychotic drug he was taking, increasing the risk of amnesia and depression.
Waller told Raymond he had no knowledge whether Bibler actually took Ambien that night.
After Bibler's testimony, Oyadare rested the defense's case. The trial is now suspended until Raymond informs District Judge Jeffrey Neary whether he will call an expert rebuttal witness and when that witness could appear in court.
Neary will decide the case because Bibler has waived his right to a jury trial. If found guilty of first-degree murder, he would face a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole.