July 19, 2006 in Nation/World

Doctor, nurses charged in four Katrina deaths

Rukmini Callimachi Associated Press
 

NEW ORLEANS – A doctor and two nurses who worked at a sweltering, flooded-out hospital in Hurricane Katrina’s chaotic aftermath were arrested and accused Tuesday of killing four trapped and desperately ill patients with injections of morphine and sedatives.

“We’re talking about people that pretended that maybe they were God,” Louisiana Attorney General Charles C. Foti said. “And they made that decision.”

The defendants were booked on charges of being “principals to second-degree murder,” which carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison.

The three were the first medical professionals charged in a monthslong criminal investigation into whether many of New Orleans’ sick and elderly were abandoned or euthanized in the days after the storm.

Dr. Anna Pou, a cancer and ear, nose and throat specialist, and nurses Cheri Landry and Lori Budo were accused of killing four patients, ages 62 to 90, at Memorial Medical Center with a “lethal cocktail” of morphine and Versed. The patients’ names were not released.

“There may be more arrests and victims that cannot be mentioned at this time,” Foti said. “This case is not over yet.”

He planned to turn the case over to the New Orleans district attorney, who will decide whether to ask a grand jury to bring charges.

Memorial Medical had been cut off by flooding after the Aug. 29 hurricane swamped New Orleans. Power was knocked out in the 317-bed hospital and the temperature inside rose to more than 100 degrees as the staff tried to tend to patients who waited four days to be evacuated.

In court papers, state investigators said Pou told a nurse executive three days after the hurricane that the patients still awaiting evacuation would probably not survive and that a “decision had been made to administer lethal doses.” Overdoses of morphine or Versed can stop the heart and lungs.

Foti, however, said he believed the patients would have lived through the storm’s aftermath.

“This is not euthanasia. This is homicide,” the attorney general said.

Attorneys for the three insisted no crime took place; one praised his client’s dedication during the crisis.

Two months after the hurricane, Foti subpoenaed more than 70 people in an investigation into rumors that patients had been put to death at the medical center, where search teams recovered 40 bodies.

About the same time, the husband-and-wife owners of a nursing home in neighboring St. Bernard Parish were charged with negligent homicide in the deaths of 34 elderly patients. Prosecutors said the owners failed to heed warnings to evacuate.

According to court papers, tissue samples taken from the dead at Memorial Medical tested positive for morphine and Versed, and the amount of Versed present was found to be higher than the usual therapeutic dose. Medical records reviewed by investigators also showed that none of the four patients was administered either of the two drugs as part of routine care.

Pou, Landry and Budo were released without bail.

© Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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