A federal magistrate judge in Boston has approved the contested extradition of a Princeton man to Scotland, opening the way for him to be tried in a criminal court in that country on a charge of attempted murder of a fellow student in 2011.
Alexander Hilton, a 2009 graduate of St. John’s High School in Shrewsbury, is accused of poisoning a fellow student at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland by spiking his bottle of red wine with methanol, also known as wood alcohol. Doctors say the student, a fellow American citizen, was temporarily blinded and would have died if he had not sought medical attention.
US Magistrate Judge Jennifer C. Boal acknowledged claims by Alexander Hilton’s lawyers that he suffers from severe mental illness and that the extradition to another country could worsen his condition, but the judge said Hilton would have to state those claims to the US Department of State, which will ultimately decide whether to turn him over to Scotland.
Boal said she was only allowed to consider whether the United States has a treaty with the United Kingdom that would allow for his extradition to Scotland; that the crime of attempted murder falls within that treaty; and that prosecutors demonstrated enough proof to hold a trial on the charges in Scotland. The judge found that those standards were met.
“The decision to block extradition based on humanitarian grounds is solely within the discretion of the secretary of state,” Boal said in her ruling Friday.
The judge found that the courts have allowed for an extradition to be denied on certain “humanitarian grounds,” but said no judge has defined what those humanitarian grounds would be.
Boal agreed in the 13-page ruling, however, to allow the 21-year-old Hilton to remain free while he seeks help from a higher judge and, if ultimately needed, while he states his claims to the Department of State. Boal gave Hilton 60 days to seek help from a US District Court judge in the form of a habeus corpus petition – a petition to be heard by and released from custody — before her extradition order takes effect.
Norman S. Zalkind, an attorney for Hilton and his family, said Friday that he was disappointed with Boal’s ruling, but that he was thankful for the 60-day advance time to petition a US District Court judge to hear the case. A District Court judge would have to agree to accept the petition.
Zalkind said that Boal’s decision “certainly recognizes his precarious situation,” arguing that Hilton suffers from severe mental illness, has tried to kill himself before, and would do so again if brought to another country. Those factors should block his extradition, Zalkind said, noting that he has also challenged the extradition based on Hilton’s rights as an American citizen, rights that would not be preserved in Scotland.
Zalkind has said in court that Hilton was suffering emotional problems at the time of the alleged poisoning. Authorities in Scotland have not described a motive in the alleged poisoning.
At the time, Hilton was a sophomore studying economics and computing at the University of St. Andrews, the celebrated school where England’s Prince William met his wife, Kate Middleton, in 2001.
Hilton returned to the United States around March 18, 2011, less than two weeks after the alleged poisoning and just days after he was questioned by investigators in Scotland. He has been staying at his family’s home in Princeton and was arrested in February under an extradition treaty the United States has with Britain.
The student, 19, at the time, suffered severe nausea and headaches for days and started to lose his vision before going to the hospital.Milton J. Valencia can be reached at email@example.com.