Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Nichopoulos Trial Tapes, Part II: Al Strada weighs in...
Al Strada Testimony
Tapes 50 and 51, Trial Div-1, 9-30-81 78174 Nichopoulos
Witness information: 33 years old, graduate of University of LA, pre-med; worked P/T for Pacific Palisades Security firm; worked security at EP Trousdale estate, the Monovale estate; 1972 -1974, part-time; hired by EP directly in January 1974, full-time through 8/16/77. Strada (a defense witness) was subpoenaed, and thus was not testifying voluntarily.
--Strada said that on the evening he was hired, they took a trip to Las Vegas. In Las Vegas, EP met with a physician at the airport, then they returned to the Monovale property.
PL: Fly to another city, and meet with a doctor at an airport. No doctor’s office. No examination. No prescription. After meeting with the doctor, return home. This doesn’t sound normal.
Q: “Did you become aware that Mr. Presley had been using sleeping medication?”
Strada: Yes, but Strada said he didn’t witness it. EP would be groggy and fall asleep during breakfast. [This question is referring to events in 1974.]
--Strada stated that EP saw several doctors in Palm Springs and Beverly Hills. On one trip to Beverly Hills, EP talked with the doctor while another member of the entourage went through the doctor’s office looking for drugs. Strada was outside the room during this incident.
PL: A person who is not addicted to drugs does not have an associate rummage through a doctor’s office while he distracts the doctor.
--Strada stated that in Asheville, NC, he witnessed a scene where EP pointed a small caliber gun at Nichopoulos after an argument about drugs, then veered the weapon away and fired; the bullet ricocheted off the TV and landed in Nichopoulos’s lap.
PL: Someone who is not addicted to drugs does not point a weapon at his doctor, nor does he fire the weapon for any reason, in any direction.
--Strada testified that EP got very upset if Nichopoulos refused to give him drugs; EP got visibly upset; staff witnessed these episodes.
PL: A person who is not addicted to drugs does not become visibly upset if he is refused drugs.
--Strada stated that if EP didn’t get what he wanted from Nichopoulos, they went to Las Vegas, Palm Springs, or Los Angeles.
PL: Again, this is a key point: Elvis got the drugs he wanted…no matter what.
--Strada stated that after an argument Elvis had with Nichopoulos, they flew to Palm Springs. The doctor visited with EP the next morning (they had departed from Memphis in the middle of the night). They stayed in Palm Springs for several days. EP stayed in his room the whole time, incoherent.
--On one occasion, Strada said that EP took two [sleeping] tablets at bedtime. Strada gave Elvis a third tablet when he woke up. Strada returned to the bedroom when EP got upset. EP blew up at Strada. Strada stated that EP was very groggy, demanded the medication, but couldn’t even open the bottle.
--Strada said that EP demanded medications, and would not take “no” for an answer.
PL: A person who is not addicted to drugs does not “demand” medication.
--Strada stated that EP would take 5 sleeping pills, and if he woke up, he thought he needed more, so he’d take more.
PL: This is a very illuminating statement by Strada. It suggests a profound misunderstanding on Elvis’s part as to the manner in which prescription medication should be used. For example, if Elvis stubbed his toe, his doctor might prescribe 1 tablet of pain medication. If the pain did not subside, the doctor might prescribe another pill. At some point, though, the doctor would stop prescribing pain medication. Since Elvis was essentially self-medicating, it appears that he took medication to achieve a certain result, and if a certain result were not achieved by taking a specific number of pills, as prescribed, he simply increased the number of pills. This is not how prescription medication should be taken, and it shows us that Elvis did not follow a drug protocol (this matter is briefly outlined below). Instead, he medicated as he saw fit. In such a case, taking pills like this will lead to tolerance, and to addiction.
--Strada said that most trips (to California or Las Vegas) started “abruptly” because Nichopoulos wouldn’t give EP drugs he wanted.
--Strada stated that on one occasion in Palm Springs, a Las Vegas doctor flew in and visited with EP, then they went to Las Vegas and stayed with the physician at his home.
--EP was put on liquid diet and kept asleep; after 3-4 weeks, EP “looked like he was going to die,” and was “incoherent.” Strada and other aides carried EP to the plane, then flew to Memphis. Upon arrival in Memphis, EP was taken to Baptist Memorial Hospital on a stretcher.
--Strada stated that packages were coming to Graceland through the mail or were picked up at the airport. Pills and liquid injectables (in vials) were delivered. Strada would remove pills from these deliveries. Strada estimated the number of pills he removed form these shipments to be “thousands.”
--Strada stated that some of these bottles had no labels.
--Strada stated that these large shipments of pills were to treat everyone on tour.
--Tish Henley worked at Graceland from June, 1975, to August, 1977. Her job was to give EP medications, prescribed by Nichopoulos, in small packets.
--Steve Smith worked there for 1 year, worked with Strada, Dean Nichopoulos and Tish Henley to intercept drugs.
PL: There’s an interesting point here regarding the interception of drugs. According to this testimony, from 1976 to 1977, Dr. Nichopoulos, Billy Smith, Al Strada, David Stanley, Rick Stanley, Dean Nichopoulos, and (for a time) Steve Smith all worked together to intercept pills that were given or provided to Elvis. However, if Elvis was determined to get drugs no matter what his primary care physician said, and was prepared to fly from Memphis to the west coast to get these drugs, what does it matter that these attempts to intercept drugs were put into motion? Strada says he intercepted “thousands” of pills, but doesn’t that tell us that “thousands” obviously was only a small percentage of what was being delivered? Otherwise, Elvis would have noticed that large portions of his deliveries were disappearing. If these pills were taken over a longer period of time, and only a few were taken at any one time, it tells us that the volume of drugs being delivered to Elvis was quite substantial, and spanned a long period of time.
Also, if Strada says that these huge numbers of pills were used to treat everyone on the tours, then why did he feel compelled to take some of the pills?
--March 31, 1977 – Strada said the tour stopped in Baton Rouge, LA – EP’s condition caused end-of-tour run-down, EP was using too many drugs. EP was groggy, unable to do the show. EP was “very much” under the influence of drugs, incoherent. Strada could not understand what EP was saying.
--Strada stated that drugs caused the cancellation of the tour.
--Upon arrival in Memphis, EP was immediately taken to BMH.
--Nichopoulos was on the entire tour to that date, and had been with EP before each show with his black bag.
--Strada described EP’s personality: EP went from extreme highs to lows. In 1976 and 1977, EP was prone to becoming very upset, very hyper, very depressed; he was quite different than he was in 1974.
PL: People who are not addicted to drugs do not receive shipments of drugs at the airport.
--Strada heard by word of mouth that Marian Cocke was bringing pills into Graceland. Strada gave packets of medications from Nurse Cocke to EP.
PL: Let’s step back for a moment and look at the situation presented here. Dr. Nichopoulos, Elvis’s primary care physician and personal doctor, is prescribing medications to Elvis. He is providing them directly to Elvis, but when he is not available, Tish Henley dispenses the medications. Marian Cocke, a nurse, is delivering medication to Elvis, as well, though we do not know where she obtained the medications. Also around Graceland are David Stanley, Rick Stanley, Al Strada, and Dean Nichopoulos, who are enlisted to deliver medications to Elvis from Henley. Even Aunt Delta is supposedly signed on as a courier.
In addition to the deliveries from these folks, Elvis may have been obtaining prescriptions from other doctors in Memphis. When he cannot get what he wants, though, he flies to Los Angeles or Las Vegas and contacts compliant doctors there. On other occasions, drug are simply shipped directly to Graceland (circumventing the normal mail delivery system), or are picked up at the airport. Is it any wonder one might question the care Elvis was receiving? Further, isn’t it safe to say that Elvis himself played a central role in these goings-on (something many fans choose to ignore)? A person who needs pain medication in Memphis should not have to fly to California to get it, unless that person is using the medication in a reckless and/or illegal manner. Flying across the country to obtain drugs is not something a passive user would do.
--Strada was asked by the prosecution about medication protocol, and whether there was one in place, or Elvis was given medication “PRN,” meaning “as requested.” In his Grand Jury testimony, Strada said that meds were given to EP “as needed,” so there was no protocol (inference introduced by Strada’s response was that there was no protocol).
NOTE: Pro re nata is a Latin phrase that literally means "for the thing born." It is commonly used in medicine to mean "as needed" or "as the situation arises." It is generally used as the acronym PRN to refer to dosage of prescribed medication that is not scheduled; instead administration is left to the caregiver or the patient's prerogative. PRN administration of medication is not meant to imply and should never allow for exceeding a prescribed daily regimen. [Wikipedia]
PL: “PRN” typically means that the patient may take up to a certain amount/dosage, but that the dosage is not to be exceeded. For example, if a patient is prescribed "Percocet, 1-2 tablets every 4 hrs as needed," this means the patient can take up to that number of pills in that amount of time, but no more; or, the patient can take less. In Elvis’s case, it seems that “PRN” meant (or was interpreted to mean) that he could take any number of pills that he wanted, even if the dosage exceeded the prescribed amount.
Also, prescribing medications as “PRN” does not mean a protocol was not in effect. Strada had previously testified at trial that there was a protocol followed by Nichopoulos; in his Grand Jury testimony, however, Strada testified that there was no protocol.
PL: Very critical point: Many fans defend Elvis’s drug use by saying that he “only” used medications that were prescribed by a doctor. Thus, while he may have had an addiction to the medications, he was nonetheless using the drugs legally. However, consider the statements by Billy Smith and Al Strada, made under oath, that Elvis was receiving shipments of drugs at Graceland via U.S. mail, and that he was receiving shipments of drugs via some delivery method at the Memphis airport. This clearly illustrates for us that these drugs were *not* prescribed, and that they were*not* used legally. Doctors who legally prescribe medications do not ship medications through the mail, and neither do they coordinate secret pick-ups at airports. These statements should adequately repudiate the claim that Elvis used only legal medications, prescribed legally. In fact, according to this testimony, he acquired/received and used legal medications illegally. When a legal medication is received and used in an illegal manner, it is illegal.
To close, much of the Nichopoulos trial testimony was included in the Cole/Thompson book, "The Death of Elvis," so there are no huge surprises here. However, to actually hear the voices of these witnesses, and to hear the tones of their voices, and the emotions that sometimes come through, definitely paints a more powerful picture of what was going on in Elvis's life during this critical time period than what we read in printed resources. The human voices in this case are far more intriguing than the printed text of the testimony.