Doctor and Nurses Charged in Post-Katrina Deaths

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One doctor and two nurses face charges of second-degree murder in connection with the deaths of patients at Memorial Hospital, in New Orleans, in the days after Hurricane Katrina.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Louisiana's attorney general says a doctor and two nurses deliberately killed four seriously ill patients at a New Orleans hospital in the days following Hurricane Katrina. The three were arrested and are facing second-degree murder charges. The attorney general has been investigating allegations of mercy killings of patients trapped in New Orleans hospitals.

NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.

CARRIE KAHN reporting:

Louisiana's Attorney General Charles Foti stepped up to a podium at a state capital office yesterday, faced dozens of reporters and did not mince words. Four patients at New Orleans Memorial Medical Center were murdered, Foti said - not relieved of suffering, not accidentally over-sedated, but murdered.

Attorney General CHARLES FOTI (Democrat, Louisiana): And this is not euthanasia. This is a homicide.

KAHN: Foti said he has no doubt that the hospital staff at Memorial toiled under very adverse circumstances in the days following Katrina. The hospital flooded, power was out, backup generators failed, and temperatures inside soared past 100 degrees. But Foti says one doctor -Anna Pou - and two nurses - Cheri Landry and Lori Budo - took it upon themselves to decide who lived and who died.

Atty. Gen. FOTI: We're talking about people that pretended that maybe they were God, and they made that decision.

KAHN: Pou, Landry and Budo were arrested late Monday night and immediately released. In the arrest warrant, they are accused of four counts of second-degree murder. If convicted, they could face life sentences. Foti says he had probable cause to make the arrests based on the eyewitness testimony of four employees of LifeCare Hospitals. LifeCare operated a long-term acute care unit out of leased space on Memorial's seventh floor.

The eyewitness testimony outlined in a 10-page affidavit alleges chilling acts by Dr. Pou and the two nurses. At one point, the witnesses alleged they saw Dr. Pou and the nurses filling syringes and stating that a decision had been made to administer lethal doses to patients on the seventh floor.

One witness said Dr. Pou requested additional syringes filled with saline, presumably to ensure the drugs would be thoroughly flushed through the patient's system. According to the affidavit, Dr. Pou and the nurses were seen walking in and out of patients' rooms and instructing remaining staff to pull sheets over the heads of deceased patients.

Foti said four patients, ranging in age from 61 to 90, were injected with the potent drugs morphine and Versed.

Atty. Gen. FOTI: When you use both of them together, it becomes a lethal cocktail that guarantees they're going to die.

KAHN: Foti says tests of tissue samples from the four patients revealed lethal doses of the drugs. Records show the patients had not previously been taking them. Attorneys for the three accused deny any wrongdoing, and say their clients performed heroic acts under unimaginable conditions.

Richard Simmons represents Dr. Anna Pou.

Mr. RICHARD SIMMONS (Attorney for Anna Pou): The affidavit, it's just a piece of paper with allegations on it. Like every piece of paper it has two sides, and we intend to show our side to the district attorney's office.

KAHN: Simmons says as the days passed and conditions are the hospital worsened, Dr. Pou volunteered to stay behind and help patients who had been abandoned by hospital staff. And he says he has plenty of witnesses to prove that.

Mr. SIMMONS: All of them say that Dr. Pou was running up and down in the darkness, with flashlights, aiding the patients, calming the nurses, and doing everything for four or five days.

KAHN: Forty-five bodies were removed from Memorial Hospital nearly two weeks after Katrina. As many as 24 of the patients died on LifeCare's seventh floor unit. Angela McManus' 70-year-old mother in LifeCare. McManus, who now lives in Baton Rouge, says she stayed by her mother's side during and after the storm. She only left when police ordered her to go, but first spoke with her mother, who was alive and conscious.

Ms. ANGELA MCMANUS (Daughter of Deceased Patient): My mom wasn't dying at the time. I'm a witness to that myself. I'm going to have to find some way to find peace with it, because I'm never going to have my mom again, you know.

KAHN: McManus' mother was not one of the four patients that investigators say were injected with lethal drugs. McManus says she was hoping for more answers. Attorney General Foti says he hopes to find them, and says the investigation is not over. He expects that more victims will be named, and that more suspects will be arrested.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News. New Orleans.

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