- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 19, 2006

A doctor and two nurses who were among hundreds stranded in a flood-damaged, sweltering New Orleans hospital after Hurricane Katrina hit have been charged with intentionally killing four patients by giving them lethal doses of drugs.

“They pretended they were God … this is homicide. It’s not euthanasia,” Louisiana Attorney General Charles C. Foti Jr. said at a press conference yesterday.

Mr. Foti reported that Dr. Anna Pou and nurses Cheri Landry and Laura Budo had each been charged with four counts of being “principal to second-degree murder” in connection with the deaths of the patients — aged 62 to 91 — at the Memorial Medical Center.

As many as 300 patients and 1,500 other people were trapped for four days at the medical center in temperatures of more than 100 degrees and without generators, food or water, as early evacuation efforts failed.

The arrest warrants said the three medical personnel injected lethal doses of morphine sulfate and a sedative, midazolan (trade name Versed) into the four patients, whom they did not think would survive.

“These two drugs are central nervous system depressants,” said Mr. Foti. Each one by itself can kill a person, he said, and “used together, they cause a lethal cocktail that guarantees you will die.”

Dr. Pou, a specialist in head and neck surgery, and the nurses were each booked on a $100,000 recognizance bond, according to the Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff’s Office.

“Being principal to second-degree murder means you assisted in or participated in an act” of killing, Mr. Foti told reporters.

Conviction carries a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment.

Mr. Foti plans to turn the case over to the New Orleans district attorney, who will decide whether to ask a grand jury to return indictments.

According to an arrest affidavit, Dr. Pou told a nursing executive on Sept. 1 that “lethal doses” would be administered to the sickest patients.

The affidavit said Dr. Pou had more than 25 vials containing what investigators say were injections of the morphine and Versed, and she asked for syringes and saline flushes.

Mr. Foti quoted Dr. Pou as telling others, “We’ll take care of it,” and then she and the two nurses then went to the bedsides of the four patients.

The four patients who the defendants are accused of killing were among 45 bodies that were removed from the medical center two weeks after the hurricane.

As part of his criminal probe, Mr. Foti issued 73 subpoenas in late October and called for autopsies of all 45 patients who died at Memorial.

“A case like this is extremely rare, and this one is unprecedented in terms of the condition this hospital was in at the time. The doctor and nurses will say they did this to be merciful to patients,” Tammie Holley, a lawyer representing about a dozen families who lost relatives at Memorial after Katrina, said in a telephone interview before Mr. Foti’s press conference.

But Ricky Simmons, attorney for Dr. Pou, said his client is “innocent of the charges” and that she will “vigorously contest them.”

John DiGiulio, attorney for Miss Landry, told the New York Times his client has been a nurse for more than 20 years and will plead not guilty.

Miss Holley said assertions that some patients were killed by Memorial staff surfaced almost immediately after the catastrophe. Prosecutors will be in a better position to prove deliberate killing if they have evidence that defendants injected patients with both Versed and morphine, she said.

According to an affidavit, test results on the bodies of the four victims found deadly levels of both drugs. Versed is used to induce drowsiness and to relieve anxiety and is also used to cause loss of consciousness before and during surgery.

Last fall, CNN aired interviews with a physician and nurse manager at Memorial, who said some staffers told her of conversations they had about euthanizing patients who might not survive their entrapment.

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