STRAWBERRY turns to doctors to stay out of Florida prison

Saturday, May 5th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) _ Darryl Strawberry has added severe depression and possible brain damage to his list of hardships that include drug addiction and cancer.

Whether the avalanche of ailments is enough to keep him out of state prison on a drug charge won't be known for nearly two weeks.

Strawberry appealed to Hillsborough Circuit Court Judge Florence Foster for leniency during a hearing Friday. Foster has to decide whether to send Strawberry to prison for a four-day drug binge last month or send him to another treatment center.

Foster will sentence Strawberry on May 17.

The binge was the fifth violation of the terms of his release on a 1999 conviction for drug possession and solicitation of prostitution. Prosecutors argue Strawberry does not deserve another chance at freedom.

``My addiction has been very strong and very powerful,'' Strawberry told Foster, his only public comment since the drug binge.

``I have never quit trying to fight the demons, and I won't quit,'' Strawberry said. ``My brain is broken and it has to be fixed. That's going to take some time.''

Darrell Dicks, assistant Hillsborough County state attorney, said Strawberry is a man who behaves like a child who has never been asked to take responsibility for his actions. Prosecutors said Strawberry can get the medical help he needs in prison.

``He needs to get his punishment, we haven't given it to him yet,'' Dirks said. ``He needs to know we mean business.''

Strawberry has spent the last month in the psychiatric ward of St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa and will remain there until he is sentenced.

He disappeared from the Tampa drug treatment center where he was serving two year's house arrest on March 29. He left with a woman he met from his Alcoholics Anonymous meeting who started smoking crack cocaine as she drove Strawberry to a meeting.

Doctors testifying on Strawberry's behalf in the six-hour hearing said the extent of Strawberry's mental illness has become known in the month he has been in the psychiatric ward.

Strawberry is also suffering from an aggressive form of colon cancer that has already required the removal of part of his colon and a kidney. He undergoes experimental chemotherapy treatments that make him feel horrible, the doctors said.

The combination of medical ailments make it difficult for Strawberry to resist drugs, the doctors testified.

``Part of us want to take Darryl by the shoulders and shake him and say 'snap out of it,' said Jonathan LaPook, a New York gastroenterologist who has been overseeing the athlete's care.

``Darryl has no more chance of snapping out of his addiction than an asthmatic has of snapping out of his tendency to wheeze,'' LaPook said.

Tampa psychologist Sidney Marin said he gave Strawberry a series of tests last week that indicate Strawberry's brain might have been damaged from years of cocaine use.

Strawberry was slow to complete simple cognitive tests and made many errors, Marin said.

``He has lost the mental flexibility,'' Marin said. ``He can't think quickly, can't think of the various ramifications around him.''

Strawberry also has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder II, a severe depression that is difficult to treat.

St. Joseph's Hospital psychiatrist Charles Walker testified the former baseball star was suicidal when he turned himself in at the hospital.