An unusual case from 2010 is back in the news. The defendant is a 62-year-old doctor who ran a number of endoscopy clinics. Two years ago, a grand jury handed up a 28-count indictment charging the doctor and two of his nurse anesthetists with racketeering insurance fraud, reckless endangerment, patient neglect and a long list of other crimes for their alleged involvement in a hepatitis C outbreak. This week, another grand jury indicted the three men for second-degree murder.
Although all of this is happening outside of North Carolina, the case has garnered national interest for a number of reasons. First and foremost, defense counsel has argued that the doctor is not competent to stand trial. Over the past two years, the doctor has suffered a series of strokes that have left him with cognitive impairments; it was not clear if he would be able to assist with his defense. Medical experts for the prosecution determined this spring that the doctor is competent.
Second, defense counsel argues that the charges are too vague and were made based on emotions rather than evidence. The prosecution, he continues, has failed to establish a link between the hepatitis cases and clinic personnel.
Investigators say they traced seven cases of hepatitis C — all diagnosed in 2007 — to the clinic. Prosecutors believe that, beginning in 2005, the defendants reused needles and single-use vials of propofol, a short-term anesthetic. Both would be violations of accepted safety practices. As a result, prosecutors say, more than 40,000 former patients were at risk of contracting AIDS and hepatitis B and C.
One of the clinic’s former patients died recently, reportedly from complications of a chronic hepatitis C infection. That patient’s death prompted the prosecution to go back to the grand jury to ask to add second-degree murder to the charges against the doctor and the two nurse anesthetists.
We’ll continue this in our next post.
Source: Courthouse News Service, “Murder Charges Filed in Hep C Outbreak,” Nick Divito, Aug. 13, 2012
Our firm handles similar situations to the one discussed in this post. If you would like to learn more about our practice, please visit our North Carolina federal criminal defense page.