MELISSA BLOCK, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
In Louisiana, the trial against the owners of a nursing home, where 35 patients drowned in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, has gone to jury. Sal and Mabel Mangano faced 35 counts of negligent homicide in the deaths of the elderly patients at their nursing home outside New Orleans. State prosecutors say the Manganos were reckless for failing to evacuate the patients. The defense says the government was reckless during Hurricane Katrina.
NPR's Carrie Kahn is in St. Francisville, Louisiana, where the trial is taking place. She joins us now. Carrie, remind us what happened in this case.
CARRIE KAHN: Well, this case is about what happened at St. Rita's Nursing Home, which is located in St. Bernard Parish right outside the New Orleans in a suburban parish there. Right after the hurricane passed and the levees have breached, water flooded the entire parish. And St. Rita's Nursing Home, where the Manganos were there with these patients, flooded - in 20 minutes, the water rose to the rooftop - we've heard over and over in this case. And 35 patients died there. 24 were able to be rescued.
And about three weeks after Hurricane Katrina, the attorney general of the state of Louisiana arrested Sal and Mabel Mangano, the owners of the nursing home and charged them - well, they subsequently charged them with 35 cases of negligent homicide, and they also threw on 24 counts of cruelty to the infirm for the 24 that were rescued from the facility.
NORRIS: So defense attorney said repeatedly that the waters rose very quickly. What did the prosecutor say today in closing arguments?
KAHN: The prosecutor said that they place the blame with the Manganos. They said they brought in a lot of different testimony and wrapped it up today. Key to that was that there were three other nursing home facilities in St. Bernard Parish that did evacuate. Only one person died in that evacuation, who is a hospice patient. They said it could be done and the Manganos did not act reasonably. They had all sorts of warnings that the television news coverage of Katrina and its approach to New Orleans was broadcast continually. They were actually shown - jurors were shown broadcast footage of that. He said there's no way the Manganos did not know that this was the one, this was the big hurricane and that they were reckless in not having a sufficient evacuation plan.
They were supposed to have vans and buses and ambulance service contracted to be able to take them out. And we learned through the trial that they only had a nine-passenger van available at the spot. There was also testimony that they refused an ambulance that came to the facility and they also turned down two buses. So there was a lot of damning evidence against them. But in the end, the prosecution even tried to rebut some of the defense's arguments that it was the government's failure. They said the government was not perfect, but in the end, it was the ultimate responsibility of the Manganos to get the people out of there.
NORRIS: So the defense team - what about their closing argument?
KAHN: They said that this was a failure of the government. That the government is there to do two things: to protect you and also to warn you about the hurricane. They said that in St. Bernard's Parish, there never was a succinct mandatory evacuation. Nobody ever called them and said get out. You must get out. And they said that the blame for this began 40 years ago with the buildings of the levees and the promises after a devastating hurricane here that there would be - that they would take care of it. They didn't take care of it. And no one ever came to St. Rita's and asked them to evacuate.
NORRIS: And the owners of St. Rita's - the Manganos - are they the only people in Louisiana to face criminal charges directly stemming from Katrina?
KAHN: That was what was brought up continually by the defense. That they would be the only two people in the entire state of Louisiana that would be held responsible for the more than fourteen hundred deaths of Hurricane Katrina if they were held criminally negligent in this case.
NORRIS: Now, the case was moved to St. Francisville, that's two hours north of New Orleans. How is that played in to this case?
KAHN: It was moved out. The defense asked because they said couldn't find anybody in St. Bernard Parish that didn't know the Manganos or didn't know any of the victims.
NORRIS: All right. Carrie Kahn, thanks so much for speaking with us.
KAHN: You're welcome.
NORRIS: That was Carrie Kahn in St. Francisville, Louisiana.