Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Bayh-Dole Act and murder [the case of Jonathan Nyce]

NBC's Dateline on January 22, 2006 featured the story of Jonathan Nyce, a Ph.D. entrepreneur in New Jersey who was convicted of murdering his wife. Not thoroughly discussed was the fact the Nyce's company, EpiGenesis Pharmaceuticals, was a spin-off of technology developed at East Carolina University, and that his company was generated through the auspices of the Bayh-Dole Act. In the end, the technology washed out. Nyce is currently in prison serving a sentence of 5-10 years, but has appealed.

From the usda site:

A startup company has spun out of East Carolina University to tackle some old diseases with an innovative new weapon: epigenetics. Based on technologies developed by Dr. Jonathan Nyce, a professor of molecular pharmacology and therapeutics, EpiGenesis Pharmaceuticals Inc. is developing a new class of proprietary therapeutics aimed at a variety of diseases, including cancer and asthma.
EpiGenesis' strategy is to operate as a virtual company, developing its products to the point where the company can attract corporate partners to carry the drugs through to commercialization. The fledgling firm is headed up by Nyce, the chairman and chief scientific officer, and Interim President Dennis Burns.

Burns — head of The Delta Group, a business development firm in Raleigh, and former vice president for licensing at Ortho Biotech — came on board after Nyce approached him following a Bio-technology Roundtable meeting at the North Carolina Biotechnology Center. "We hit it off, so here we are," Nyce said.

Epigenetics is a way of treating disease by manipulating genetic expression at the level of messenger RNA (mRNA). The instigating force behind many ailments is aberrent gene expression, such as the over-production of cytokines that causes the suffocating sensation of asthma. "We're looking at disease in a different way, saying disease is characterized by this discor-dant gene expression," Nyce said. "We're asking, how can we intervene in the expression?" EpiGenesis has two lead products under development, EpiGenRx, an asthma medication, and EpiCyte for treating acute myelenogenous leukemia, or AML.

Asthma is the most common respiratory ailment in the United States, afflicting some six million people. With a $3 billion worldwide asthma drug market, EpiGenRx has the potential to become the company's first breadwinner.

Relevant patents include

5,994,315 [Low adenosine agent, composition, kit and method for treatment of airway disease]
Abstract: An oligonucleotide which is antisense to a mRNA encoding a polypeptide involved in airway disease(s) contains up to three adenosines per every 21 nucleotide a method of treating airway disease in a subject in need of such treatment comprises topically administering to the subject an antisense oligonucleotide in an amount effective to treat the airway disease, where the antisense oligonucleotide is essentially free of adenosine. Pharmaceutical formulations are also disclosed.
Assignee: East Carolina University (Greenville, NC)
Government interest: This invention was made at least partially with United States Government support under grant RO1CA47217-06 from the National Cancer Institute. The Government has certain rights to this invention.

6,025,339 [Composition, kit and method for treatment of disorders associated with bronchoconstriction and lung inflammation]
Abstract: A method of reducing bronchoconstriction in a subject in need of such treatment is disclosed. The method comprises administering to the subject an antisense oligonucleotide molecule directed against the A.sub.1 or A.sub.3 adenosine receptor in an amount effective to reduce bronchoconstriction. The method is useful for treating patients afflicted with asthma. Pharmaceutical formulations are also disclosed.
Assignee: East Carolina University (Greenville, NC)
Government interest: This invention was made at least partially with United States Government support under grant RO1CA47217-06 from the National Cancer Institute. The Government may have certain rights to this invention.
[To date, no US patents have cited the '339 patent.]

Returning to the murder itself, some people have questioned the relatively light sentence given to Nyce for murdering his wife. Go back to 1978 and review the case of Theodore Streleski, a graduate student at Stanford University who murdered his advisor.

From Wikipedia:

Theodore Streleski was a graduate student in mathematics at Stanford University who murdered his former faculty adviser, the professor Karel de Leeuw, with a ball peen hammer in August 1978. Shortly after the murder, Streleski turned himself in to the authorities, claiming he felt the murder was justifiable homicide because de Leeuw had withheld departmental awards from him and demeaned Streleski in front of his peers. Streleski described how at one point, de Leeuw had insulted his shoes.

Streleski had been a pursuing his doctorate in the mathematics department for nineteen years and he felt that Stanford faculty were unfairly withholding his promotion. Streleski also confessed to having the names of de Leeuw's colleagues on a "hit list".

During his trial Streleski told the court he felt the murder was "logically and morally correct." Streleski was convicted of second degree murder and he served seven years in prison for his actions.

The front page of The Trentonian on Monday, January 23, 2006, carried the headline:
"Nyce Vows Payback." There was a sub-headline: "Killer in 'Dateline' Interview: 'I expect to put people in jail who lied to put me here.'"

Some of the text: "The 55-year-old research scientist from Hopewell Township finally got his national television audience last night when 'Dateline NBC' aired its exclusive interview from defense attorney Robin Lord's Trenton office, taped shortly after Nyce's July 14, 2005 sentencing in Mercer County Superior Court [Trenton, NJ].

Of the severity of the 5-10 year sentence:

But Murphy asked Galuchi if the sentence left a queasy message that in New Jersey a man can kill his wife and only get a 5-to-10 year prison term. "I think some people could certainly derive that message from the verdict," Galuchie said.

The Trentonian did not discuss details of Nyce's scientific work (including the patents at East Carolina University) or the commercial failure of the endeavor.

The Streleski murder is not the only one involving a grad student.

Wayne State University Assistant Dean of the Graduate School Matthew Seeger noted that the shooting of Dr. Olbrot by Wlodzimierz Dedecjus on December 10, 1998 reflects an extreme and rare pattern of violence. Similar events have occurred at graduate programs at Stanford University [Streleski], the University of Iowa, and most recently, a doctoral student at Harvard committed suicide.

Dedecjus, 48, came to the United States from Poland in 1989. After receiving an associate's degree at a community college, he entered Wayne State University, and earned a bachelor's degree. He entered the graduate program in 1995 and earned a master's degree under a different advisor before entering the Ph.D. program in electrical engineering, with Dr. Olbrot as advisor .

Although Dedecjus was taking an independent study with Dr. Olbrot this semester, Dedecjus was not enrolled in the course where the shooting occurred.

Dr. Olbrot, 52, was born in Lisow, Poland. He received his bachelor's (1970), graduate (1973) and postgraduate (1977) degrees from the Technical University of Warsaw. He was also on its faculty in the department of automatic control until 1987. In 1988 he was appointed to the electrical and computer engineering faculty at Wayne State University. He was promoted to a full professorship in 1992.

[Look here.]

The is a book by John Glatt on the Nyce murder: Never Leave Me: A True Story of Marriage, Deception, and Brutal Murder.

One reviewer of the book noted:

Unfortunately, I found the latter part of the book seems to focus on the defense attorney Robin Lord, who the author proclaims as one of the best attorneys in that area; specifically, touting her representation of Jesse Timmendequas, whose conviction led to the passing of Megan's Law. While focusing on Lord, the reader is introduced to her ridiculous courtroom theatrics and temper tantrums and, unfortunately, they seem to take up a great portion of the second half of the book.

Lastly, I must disagree with a previous reviewer who proclaimed this to a be complex case. It's not really a case of "Who done it?" as Nyce, an alleged medical genius, didn't even have enough sense to complete clean up all the blood from his garage; neither did he take the time to put the car seat back into a position, after driving atop his 6' 4" frame atop his deceased wife's 5' 2" body, that would have made it appear more likely that she was driving. Duh! I guess medical geniuses don't have much time to watch Law & Order or CSI?!

IPBiz notes that the judge who presided over the Nyce case was suspended during the month of December 2006, but returns in January 2007. That's another story.

Of the University of Iowa shootings, one now has a movie (Dark Matter).

In the real story, physics grad student Gang Lu killed Christoph K. Goertz (his advisor), Linhua Shan (a fellow Ph.D student from China), Dwight R. Nicholson (department chair), Robert Alan Smith (associate professor, Lu's co-advisor), and T. Anne Cleary (vice President for Academic Affairs at UI).

In the movie, Meryl Streep plays a philanthropist and patron of fictional Valley State University, and she is an aficionado of Chinese culture. The evil grad student is Liu Xing (played by played by Ye Liu). The advisor goes south when the grad student begins to pursue a project that goes against his advisor’s favorite theory. When the advisor deep-sixes the Ph.D. thesis, the grad student gets a gun.

The movie director, himself a student at the time of the shootings, saw a screen saver from a Chinese student association that read “Long live Gang Lu.”


The shootings at NIU on 14 Feb. 08 are alleged to be the act of Steven Kazmierczak. The 27 year old Kazmierczak had been a graduate student in sociology at Northern Illinois University as recently as spring 2007, and was currently enrolled as a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The suspect's father is Robert Kazmierczak of Lakeland (Polk County), Fla.

UPDATE. 23 July 09

IPBiz ran across text on the Streleski matter from the book Disciplined Minds which casts De Leeuw in a somewhat dark light. It suggests De Leeuw forced Streleski to give up a part time job at Lockheed to study at Stanford, but did not provide financial support for Streleski either before or after Streleski passed his qualifying exams. In this, Streleski's long period at Stanford arose from having to attend only after working jobs to get money to pay. The account also mentioned that Streleski's marriage collapsed. Of contact, this account suggests that Streleski had taken seven courses from de Leeuw. None of this, of course, is a justification for murder.

[IPBiz post 1169]


Blogger Lawrence B. Ebert said...

The front page of the Trenton Times on Friday, February 16, 2007, had a story with the words:

Jonathan Nyce, convicted of killing his wife at their Hopewell Township home in a fit of jealous rage, is seeking a new trial, claiming Superior Court Judge Bill Mathesius "demeaned" Nyce's attorney during his trial and permitted statements and evidence that were taken when Nyce was "deprived of counsel."

Nyce's appeal got a late start as the result of the legal problems of his current attorney, Paul W. Bergrin. In his filing Tuesday, the Newark attorney asked the Appellate Division for permission to file the appeal late because of his own indictment last month by the Manhattan district attorney's office on charges of money laundering, promoting prostitution and conspiracy.

Judge Mathesius had been suspended in December 2006 for reasons other than his behavior at the Nyce trial, but this is not mentioned in the Times/AP story.

The Times story also stated:

In his filing to the Appellate Division, Bergin cited decisions by Mathesius to allow the jury to hear statements Nyce gave to detectives and to allow evidence from a search of Nyce's house. He also cited the judge's "extensive demeaning of defense counsel," as a reason that Nyce should get a new trial.

Robin Lord, who was Nyce's defense lawyer, declined to comment on the appeal. During the trial, Lord made a motion for a new trial citing the same reason.

Lord often sparred with Mathesius over various legal issues during Nyce's highly publicized five-week trial. Mathesius, who faced sanctions from the Supreme Court for his sharp tongue, also declined to comment on the issue of his treatment of Lord during the trial.

Before the Nyce trial got under way, Mathesius ruled against Lord, who argued that what her client said to police should not be used against him. Lord argued that police deprived Nyce "of his right to counsel" after Nyce aroused suspicion by showing little reaction upon learning that his wife had died in what was first deemed an automobile accident.

The present link for the Times article is

1:12 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home