New Orleans Doctor Not Indicted for Mercy Killings

A grand jury in New Orleans refuses to indict the doctor charged in the alleged mercy killings of four critically ill hospital patients. Dr. Anna Pou and two nurses were arrested last summer and accused of giving lethal injections to the patients in the days following Hurricane Katrina.

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Here's a follow-up to one of the horror stories we heard in the days after Hurricane Katrina.

A grand jury in New Orleans has refused to indict the doctor charged in the alleged mercy killings of four critically ill hospital patients. Dr. Anna Pou and two nurses were arrested last summer. They were accused of giving lethal injections to the patients after the hurricane.

The grand jury, though, found no reason to pursue the murder charges. State prosecutors say they believe the doctor is guilty, though, of the murders and possibly five more patient deaths.

Here's NPR's Carrie Kahn.

CARRIE KAHN: For nearly two years, Dr. Anna Pou has mostly let others speak in her defense. Yesterday, at a downtown New Orleans hotel surrounded by her family, she faced reporters. Fighting back tears, Pou said she was at home when she heard that the grand jury refused to indict her.

Dr. ANNA POU (LSU Health Sciences Center): I fell to my knees and I thanked God for helping me.

KAHN: The respected local surgeon also thanked her patients, colleagues and countless supporters. She said the grand jury's decision was not just a personal triumph.

Dr. POU: For the moment of remembrance for those who lost their lives during the storm and a tribute to all of those who stayed at their post and served people most in need.

KAHN: Pou and two other nurses accused of the murders have long maintained that they struggled for days to take care of seriously ill patients trapped in the flooded hospital without water or electricity. State Attorney General Charles Foti saw it differently. Last summer he had Pou and two nurses arrested. He accused them of administering lethal doses of drugs to four elderly patients.

Foti said he had eyewitnesses to the homicides and conclusive toxicology reports. He handed the case over to the local district attorney. Yesterday Orleans Parish D.A. Eddie Jordan said he agreed with the grand jury's decision not to indict Pou and declared the criminal investigation over.

Mr. EDDIE JORDAN (District Attorney, Orleans Parish): We have no further dealings with the deaths that took place at Memorial Medical or of any individuals involved in that.

KAHN: Last month Jordan dropped the charges against the two nurses in exchange for their testimony against Dr. Pou. In New Orleans, there was little support for the case against the three women who were widely viewed as victims of an overreaching state prosecutor up for reelection. Yesterday, Attorney General Foti was unapologetic and said he believes as many as nine patients were injected with lethal doses of drugs.

Mr. CHARLES FOTI (Attorney General, Louisiana): It is the duty of the attorney general to represent these victims, not in a malicious way, not for political gain, but only for the protection of their lives.

KAHN: Foti accused the DA of not presenting all of the evidence to the grand jury. He said none of the five experts who independently concluded that the patients were murdered was called to testify. One of those experts, pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht, says the evidence was overwhelming.

Dr. CYRIL WECHT (Forensic Pathologist): These were unquestionably homicides. These were drugs that were given in large doses to people who did not need those particular drugs.

KAHN: Despite Dr. Pou's criminal exoneration yesterday, she is still facing mounting legal challenges. Relatives of several patients who died at Memorial Hospital are suing Pou.

Her attorney, Rick Simmons, says it's not fair that healthcare providers are taking the brunt of litigation stemming from Katrina. Simmons says a long list of government error has been forgotten. He wants the death certificates of the Memorial patients to be changed to government abandonment.

Mr. RICK SIMMONS (Attorney): Anybody with a television set knows the cause of death.

KAHN: For Dr. Pou, she says she just wants to get back to practicing medicine, which she gave up after her arrest. Pou was asked if she would stay behind again if another hurricane threatened New Orleans.

Dr. POU: In a heartbeat. If they need me, I would definitely stay.

KAHN: But added she hopes authorities have learned their lesson and will evacuate hospitals under threat so no one is left behind.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News.

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