Ilo Marie Grundberg sat quietly on the bed, watching her 82-year-old mother sleep. After a while, Ilo slipped a birthday card under her mother's hand; tomorrow would be Mildred Coats' 83rd birthday.
The card was addressed to "Mom."Ilo, 57, then pulled out a .22-caliber revolver, pointed it at her mother's head and began firing. She then reloaded the pistol and fired again. And again.
After placing towels beneath the victim's head, Ilo sat down and calmly wrote out a detailed confession: Financially, things were going badly, and she just didn't want her mother to have to face her 83rd birthday and the tough times ahead.
"I didn't kill her because I didn't love her. I love her very much," Ilo told police when they arrived some three hours later - on June 20, Mildred's birthday.
Ilo Grundberg may have loved her mother dearly, but love, her attorney says, had nothing to do with the murder of Mildred Coats. According to Ilo's defense, the murder was a tragic side effect of Halcion, the most commonly prescribed sleeping pill in America.
"She's not insane," said Gary Pendleton, a St. George attorney who will defend Ilo against second-degree murder charges late next month. "She's not guilty based upon her ability to understand the wrongfulness of the act."
Ilo called her daughter in California and told her about the shooting and the daughter called authorities in Washington Coun ty. When Hurricane City police responded to the Lava Bluff Trailer Estates, they found Ilo Grundberg calmly awaiting their arrival.
She was neither emotional nor agitated, nor did she appear to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Instead, officers found a woman who matter-of-factly recounted what had happened.
"In no way was she trying to hide it," remembers Hurricane Police Chief Lynn L. Excell. "Everything was so open. She just wanted to spare her mother the grief. She didn't sound crazy; everything she was saying made a lot of sense."
Excell may have gone into the investigation thinking he was dealing with a mercy killing, but he soon changed his mind.
Ilo had told officers that she and her mother were having financial problems. But that simply wasn't the case, as the mother and daughter had plenty of money. An inheritance was not a motive as the mother had already signed over all her assets to her daughter.
The age and health of the victim was not a factor as Mildred Coats was in very good health and was not dependent upon her daughter for her daily care.
"It just didn't fit a mercy killing at all," Excell said.
And a crime of passion was not much of a motive as the pair seemed to be very happy living together. They did not fight or argue, and they often traveled together, taking a cruise or renting a houseboat on Lake Powell.
"So give me a motive?" said Pendleton. "There just isn't one."
The Washington County attorney's office, which did not return Deseret News phone calls, apparently agrees. Offers have been made to reduce the second-degree murder charges, based on Ilo's diminished mental capacity at the time.
But Pendleton has refused their offers. "Involuntary intoxication is a defense that has been recognized for hundreds of years. (Because of Halcion) her ability to recognize or appreciate right and wrong was superficial at best."
Who killed Mildred Coats will not be in question when the case goes to trial on Dec. 27. Rather the key issue is why Ilo Grundberg _ a woman who unquestionably loved her mother _ would fire eight bullets into her head and neck.
"This case is an incredible tale of nightmare," said Pendleton.
It's a nightmare Pendleton said would never have happened if Halcion had been properly tested. But it wasn't, the lawyer maintains, and the deadly side-effects are resulting in an alarming rash of suicides, homicides and attempted homicides across America. In Europe, the tragic consequences has prompted some countries to ban the drug.
According to Upjohn's recommendations to doctors, Halcion should be prescribed in dosages of .25 milligrams and for no more than two to three weeks at a time. But in Ilo's case, doctors prescribed Halcion for 13 consecutive months, and the three months prior to the murder, the dosage was raised from .25 milligrams to .5 milligrams _ a dosage twice the level currently manufactured and dispensed.
Pendleton believes it was an excessive dosage over an extended period of time that caused Ilo Grundberg to lose touch with reality and commit a murder she still doesn't fully comprehend.
"We're not trying to indict the doctors," said Pendleton, "but the fact is she was on Halcion far longer than she should have been. And never once did she abuse her pre-scription."
Ilo's encounter with Halcion began about May 1987, long before she and her mother, who was also using the drug, moved into a trailer park in Hurricane. Neighbors in southern Utah noticed nothing peculiar about Ilo over the first three months (January to March 1988) they lived there.
But from April to June, neighbors say Ilo's personality changed radically. Neighbors thought Ilo was going insane.
Pendleton says it is no coincidence that Ilo's mental condition began deteriorating from March 24, when doctors raised her prescription dosage from .25 milligrams to .5 milligrams. Nor is he surprised that Ilo began suffering severe bouts of paranoia, amnesia, insomnia and anorexia. From March to June, Ilo lost more than 40 pounds.
"When I came to visit her, she was paranoid, her tongue was dry and swollen and she was wringing her hands," remembers Ilo's daughter, Janice Gray. "That was not the mother I knew."
"It fits everything we know about Halcion intoxication to a T," Pendleton added.
Today, Ilo Grundberg is a patient at the Western Institute of Neuropsychiatry. She no longer takes Halcion, she has regained much of her weight and she has recovered her "energetic, kind, conscientious personality that people remember from before."
"The Ilo Grundberg the jurors see in that courtroom will not be the same person who killed her mother," Pendleton said.
Win or lose come Dec. 27, Pendleton says the public must be made aware of the tragic consequences of Halcion. "We'll have our share of medical testimony," Pendleton said. "People need to know how little pre-testing and research was actually done on Halcion. It's far from being a safe drug."