A jury awarded $16.5 million Thursday to a woman who said she was drugged with carbon dioxide and manipulated to believe she was raped by family members at the hands of a former State College psychologist.
Her attorney, Bernard Cantorna, asked the jury to hold Julian Metter, 59, accountable for planting a "horror story" in the woman's mind while she was drugged with carbon dioxide.
The jurors responded after five hours of deliberation, unanimously ordering Metter to pay what Cantorna said is the largest jury verdict in Centre County history.
"They clearly wanted to send a message that Dr. Metter is a danger to the public and anyone he might attempt to treat," Cantorna said. "They wanted to make sure anybody and everybody could find this case and make sure he can never do this to anyone again."
Metter, who had been in practice for 20 years, lost his license to practice psychology in June 2009 when he pleaded guilty to fraudulently billing Medicare, according to the National Council Against Health Fraud.
He was sentenced in February 2011 to serve five months in prison followed by two years probation. Cantorna said Metter is free to continue treating people, just not as a psychologist, after his probation.
When contacted Thursday night, Metter said he was saddened and disappointed by the jury's decision. He said he will appeal the verdict.
"It was very surprising," Metter said. "Everyone with me who knows (the woman) and the situation really felt we brought forward a very accurate picture."
Cantorna said his client was made to believe she was raped at the hands of her family and abused in cultlike rituals by prominent members of the community.
Metter was accused in the civil lawsuit of creating those images and suggesting them as reality while the woman was drugged and in her most vulnerable state.
"He took a woman who never had any history of this and made her relive the most horrific things one could imagine," Cantorna said Thursday during closing arguments in the six-day civil trial. "He made her live it."
The lawsuit alleged the woman suffered lasting emotional anguish as a result. It also stated she suffered a brain injury due to repeated exposures to a mixture of carbon dioxide and oxygen.
Metter administered the mixture, pumped through a mask placed over the woman's face. He thought the treatment would help recover repressed memories, according to the suit.
Acting as his own attorney, Metter did not deny he gave the woman carbon dioxide.
But he said she insisted on the treatment. In fact, Metter said, the woman didn't go to police until after he stopped the treatments due to health concerns.
In October 2006, the woman allegedly stopped breathing during a session. Metter revived her, but wouldn't take her to the hospital, according to the lawsuit.
"It wasn't just the CO2 that is at issue," Cantorna said. "He stripped her down and took her life's history. You all have your past. You all have your memories. No one has a right to take your life's history and turn it into a horror story."
Metter maintained during the trial the therapy was helping the woman, who he said long suffered from physical and emotional pain. He suggested the woman did suffer abuse in her childhood, including torture tied to a satanic cult he said was based in State College.
He called to the stand a therapist from Pittsburgh, formerly of State College, who testified Thursday she treated two separate patients who reported similar cult abuse in Centre County.
Kimberly June testified via telephone that her patients said the cult included doctors, police officers and a judge, operated in the 1960s and performed torture, buried children in coffins, killed animals and impregnated young women.
Metter said the woman failed to show her brain injuries were the result of carbon dioxide treatment, instead suggesting the injury is related to cult abuse.
Cantorna dismissed the allegations of cult abuse and said the woman denies she was ever sexually assaulted by a family member.
"I've had to sit here and attempt to be professional for six days," he said during his closing arguments. "This has been a mockery of everything I hold dear in a courtroom.
"This verdict needs to be such that when someone sees it, they go 'what the heck happened here'; otherwise Dr. Metter goes on like nothing every happened," Cantorna said. "He walks out of here as Dr. Metter."