Thu, Jul 26, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Doctor not indicted over deaths of Katrina victims

AP , NEW ORLEANS

A grand jury refused on Tuesday to indict a doctor accused of murdering four seriously ill hospital patients with drug injections during the desperate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, closing the books on the only mercy-killing case to emerge from the storm.

Anna Pou acknowledged administering medication to the patients but insisted she did so only to relieve pain.

Pou and two nurses were arrested last summer after Attorney General Charles Foti concluded they gave ``lethal cocktails'' to four patients at the flooded-out, sweltering Memorial Medical Center after the August 2005 storm.

When the levees broke in New Orleans, 80 percent of the city flooded. The lower level of Memorial Medical Center was under 3m of water, and electricity was out across the city. Inside the hospital, the temperature topped 38oC.

At least 34 people died at the hospital, many from dehydration during the four-day wait for rescuers. In the 60 Minutes interview, Pou stressed: "Anytime you provide pain medicine to anybody, there is a risk. But as I said, my role is to help them through the pain."

Other doctors who were there described the situation as resembling a medical unit during wartime rather than an urban American hospital.

The four patients Pou was accused of killing ranged in age from 61 to 90. Foti said all four would have survived if they had not been given morphine and midazolam hydrochloride.

Autopsies were performed, but the results were not released because of the pending grand jury investigation.

The decision was a defeat for Foti, who accused the doctor and the nurses, but it was the New Orleans district attorney who presented the case to the grand jury, asking it to bring murder and conspiracy charges.

At a news conference, Pou fought back tears as she read a prepared statement. She refused to answer questions about what happened at the hospital because of lawsuits filed by families of three patients.

"All of us need to remember the magnitude of human suffering that occurred in the city of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina so we can be assured that this never happens again and that no health care professional should ever be falsely accused in a rush to judgment," she said.

If another hurricane threatened, Pou added, she would stay on duty in a hospital, but she is concerned her case will keep other medical professionals from remaining with patients during storms.

Regarding her feelings toward the attorney general, Poe said she "puts his fate in God's hands."

Foti said on Tuesday that the grand jury had erred. He released reports from four medical experts who determined the deaths were homicides.

District Attorney Eddie Jordan had not called any family members of the people who died to testify before the grand jury, and Pou received sympathetic press coverage, Foti said.

"It was well planned and well orchestrated," Foti said of the news media's coverage.

All available information was given to the grand jury, Jordan said.

"I feel the grand jury did the right thing," he said.

Charges against the nurses, Lori Budo and Cheri Landry, were dropped after they were compelled to testify last month before the grand jury under legal guidelines that kept their testimony from being used against them.

Many people in New Orleans believed the three acted heroically under punishing conditions. Last week, a group of doctors and nurses held a rally on the anniversary of Pou's arrest, and hundreds of people turned out to show support.

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