Prosecutor disputes WWE's assertion that son had mental retardation

Updated: July 3, 2007, 6:53 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

ATLANTA -- A prosecutor investigating pro wrestler Chris Benoit, who killed his wife and son and committed suicide, is questioning World Wrestling Entertainment's early assertion that the boy had a form of mental retardation called Fragile X syndrome.

A spokesperson for WWE -- which shortly after the killings deflected speculation about steroids by saying the Benoits had argued over whether the wrestler should stay home more to take care of the 7-year-old son -- also backed away Tuesday from its statements about the boy's diagnosis.

Fayette County prosecutor Scott Ballard said in a news release Tuesday that some of the boy's medical records have been reviewed and "they do not mention any pre-existing mental or physical impairment."

Fragile X syndrome, a disorder affecting the X chromosome, is the most common inherited cause of mental retardation and associated developmental disabilities. Family members deny Daniel had the condition, and the child's teachers also deny reports that he was physically undersized, Ballard said.

Two days after the bodies of Benoit, his wife, Nancy, and son, Daniel, were found last month, WWE attorney Jerry McDevitt said the child had Fragile X. The wrestling organization learned from the couple's friends and relatives that the Benoits argued over whether the wrestler should stay home more to take care of Daniel, he said.

At the same time, the WWE issued a news release saying steroids "were not and could not be related to the cause of death" and that the findings indicated "deliberation, not rage."

Some experts believe steroids can cause paranoia, depression and violent outbursts known as "roid rage." Toxicology tests on Benoit's body have not been completed.

WWE spokesman Gary Davis said Tuesday that McDevitt had first heard Fragile X syndrome linked to the boy in a Canadian news report.

McDevitt was "confident" that the information was accurate after speaking with other WWE employees who knew Benoit, Davis said. But none of those employees specifically mentioned Fragile X, he said.

"A lot of people got caught up in the idea that Daniel had Fragile X syndrome," Davis said from the company's headquarters in Stamford, Conn. "We were just as caught up as everyone else."

The WWE has no information to contradict Ballard's statement, Davis said.

"I think we have to go with what the district attorney has said as being the best, up-to-date information available right now," Davis said.

On Friday, Nancy Benoit's parents said through their attorney that they were unaware that their grandson had a rare medical condition called Fragile X Syndrome, an inherited form of mental retardation often accompanied by autism.

Atlanta-based lawyer Richard Decker, who represents Paul and Maureen Toffoloni, told ESPN.com's Elizabeth Merrill that the grandparents babysat often for Daniel and noticed no medical issues.

"To them, he's always been a normal, healthy, happy child with no signs of illness," Decker said. "And that's not from a distance. That's from day-to-day contact.

"There has been a lot of speculation and rumor in the media that is doing nothing to advance the investigation and doing everything to cause the Toffolonis intense pain."

The Toffolonis, Decker told Merrill, are "grieving and trying to keep a low profile." They have asked Decker to investigate a possible civil lawsuit, and he is waiting for the investigation to conclude.

"We're trying to stay out of their way right now," Decker said. "In the meantime, Maureen and Paul and Sandra [Nancy's sister] have asked me to ask members of the media and public to remember that this is an investigation of the death of their daughter and only grandchild. And even though Chris and Nancy led public lives, the family, specifically Daniel, did not lead a public life."

Ballard has said investigators found needle marks on Daniel Benoit's arms. He said he had been told the parents considered him undersized and had given him growth hormones. And though Benoit apparently had plenty of anabolic steroids at his disposal, a sports-medicine expert has said there is no medical reason to prescribe them to a 7-year-old.

Ballard did not return phone messages seeking additional comment Tuesday.

Attorney Joseph Saia, who represented Nancy Benoit in a 2003 divorce complaint against her husband, also said the child "looked and acted normal."

Holly McFague, a neighbor of the Benoits, said Nancy Benoit spoke with her about Daniel's medical problems in the year before she died.

"I know that there were some problems, problems and issues that she said the son had," said George Regan, the owner of a Boston public relations firm who is working as McFague's spokesman.

Regan could not say exactly what problems Nancy Benoit referred to.

Authorities have said Chris Benoit strangled his wife and son and placed Bibles next to their bodies before hanging himself on the cable of a weight machine.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.