Bloodlines: The Death of Chicago Dermatologist David Cornbleet

After dermatologist David Cornbleet was murdered in his Michigan Avenue office, his son, Jonathan, devoted himself to finding the killer. Now a shy and troubled young man—a former patient of Dr. Cornbleet’s—has confessed. But that man’s anguished father is arguing that a drug prescribed by the slain doctor may have contributed to the killing.

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In the months that have followed, the two families have been consumed by different battles. The Cornbleets, led by the son, have relentlessly pursued the extradition of Hans Peterson from Guadeloupe—another French Caribbean territory where Peterson was transferred and where he awaits his fate. Hans’s father, on the other hand, has begun to speak out against Accutane and in defense of his son.

To Jon Cornbleet, Hans Peterson is a “coward” afraid to face justice here, someone gaming the system to avoid a harsher sentence than he would receive in France. “He’s made an absolute mockery of justice, of France and America’s judicial system,” the son says.

That hasn’t stopped Cornbleet. As in the pursuit of his father’s killer, he has been unrelenting in his fight to win extradition. In addition to numerous media appearances, he has organized e-mail and letter campaigns. He has won support for his cause from local, state, and national officials.

One of those officials, Cook County state’s attorney Richard Devine, has been particularly vocal. He has argued that France’s extradition treaty with the United States allows for discretion and has said that, no matter what, he is determined to continue the fight. (Peterson has not been charged here, nor will he be unless extradition is granted.)

The French, however, remain unmoved. “Our law provides very clearly that French nationals are not to be extradited,” Jean-Baptiste de Boissière, the French consul general in Chicago, has said. “It’s a law which doesn’t give room for maneuvering.” Thus, says Anthony D’Amato, a professor of international law at Northwestern University, “it’s futile for Mayor Daley to go to France and ask them to send a guy back. No official can do it without violating French law.”

As this story went to press, French authorities were waiting to charge Peterson pending the outcome of their investigation. One near certainty: Peterson would face lighter penalties in a French court than in the United States. Even under a life sentence, he could be released after 20 years, Devine says.

Such a possibility is anathema to the Cornbleets. “For us, 20 or 30 years is not sufficient,” says Jocelyn. “He would still have another 20 or 30 years of life, as if it [had] never happened.”

To Jon Cornbleet, Hans Peterson is a “coward” afraid to face justice here, someone gaming the system to avoid a harsher sentence than he would receive in France. “He’s made an absolute mockery of justice, of France and America’s judicial system,” the son says.

Tom Peterson, meanwhile, has devoted himself to defending his son and preaching against a drug he believes destroyed not only his son’s life, but his own and his family’s.

“I think the drug made him psychotic,” he says. “And once you’re psychotic the door is open to all kinds of things. You can sit there and ruminate about what happened to you and your anger can spill over. Obsessiveness is part of psychosis.”

In any trial—be it here or on French soil—Accutane will likely play a key role in Hans Peterson’s defense. If the claim is insanity, however, he will face a heavy burden. Under U.S. law, Peterson would have to argue that he could not distinguish between right and wrong—a position made difficult by the lengths he allegedly went to in order to cover up the crime. An insanity defense might be even harder in France, says D’Amato, the Northwestern University law professor. Unlike courts here, the French judicial system uses a three-judge tribunal that chooses its own expert witnesses. That means Hans would be unable to bring his own expert to testify as to his competency.

A trial on French soil would also place a strain on the Cornbleets. They and any other witnesses would have to travel to the chosen location. Chicago police would help French prosecutors by providing evidence. Even if Peterson were convicted and punished by the French, it would not shield him from prosecution in the United States should he ever return, according to Devine.

For his part, Tom Peterson at this writing had yet to consult with a criminal attorney. And anyway, he says, “I am not bringing up the Accutane part of this story to create a legal defense. I am trying to educate the public about what really happened and to expose the corruption of Big Pharma, the FDA, and the majority of doctors.”

That doesn’t mean he sees no link to the crime from the medication. If not for the Accutane, he says, “[Hans] would have stayed in Chicago. He would have found his way in the stock options world, and despite his shyness, I believe he would have found a life for himself.”

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