New Orleans Hospital Deaths Still Stump Coroner - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

02/02/07 - New Orleans, La.

New Orleans Hospital Deaths Still Stump Coroner

Bodies lie wrapped at Memorial Medical Center in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which struck New Orleans on August 29. Bodies lie wrapped at Memorial Medical Center in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which struck New Orleans on August 29.
From left, Dr. Anna Pou, nurse Lori Budo and nurse Cheryl Landry are accused of second-degree murder in the deaths. From left, Dr. Anna Pou, nurse Lori Budo and nurse Cheryl Landry are accused of second-degree murder in the deaths.

The Orleans Parish coroner said Thursday he cannot classify as homicides the deaths of four patients who died at a New Orleans hospital in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

How the coroner ultimately rules could affect the murder cases against a Memorial Medical Center doctor and two nurses accused of killing the patients.

"Right now, I cannot classify these deaths as either a homicide, a suicide, a natural cause or an accident," coroner Frank Minyard told CNN.

"It's not the end of the case. I have two more forensic experts that I'm waiting on," Minyard continued. "But right now, as of this moment, February 1, these cases are undetermined."

Minyard earlier said a grand jury would be impaneled in the cases of Dr. Anna Pou and nurses Cheryl Landry and Lori Budo. All three were arrested in July and charged with second-degree murder in the deaths of the patients, who ranged in age from 61 to 90.

Louisiana Attorney General Charles Foti has contended the patients died of a lethal drug combination administered by the three medical professionals in Katrina's aftermath, before the hospital was evacuated.

Foti began his investigation September 14, 2005, two weeks after the evacuation, when officials from Lifecare, an acute-care facility operating within Memorial, reported the suspicious deaths. He has said all of those who were allegedly killed were Lifecare patients.

"This was not euthanasia," Foti said in July. "This was homicide."

Pou, Landry and Budo have denied the charges, and their attorneys have said they acted heroically, staying to attend to patients rather than flee. After the storm hit, conditions at the hospital deteriorated as air conditioning and other hospital equipment failed.

Under Louisiana law, Foti can arrest and charge individuals, but the local district attorney decides whether to try the case.

District Attorney Eddie Jordan has refused to discuss the case publicly, only saying he asked Minyard to review autopsy findings and report back to him.

District attorney awaits report

Jordan told the New Orleans Times-Picayune on Wednesday he was still waiting for Minyard's report.

"I will give my report at the grand jury," Minyard told CNN. "All the D.A. ever gets is my cause-of-death sheet, which he has, and which says these cases are undetermined."

However, that finding is not written in stone, he said, and could be changed. And undetermined findings are hardly uncommon, he said.

"That happens all the time. ... You never know what a grand jury is going to do," he said.

Meanwhile, Assistant District Attorney Michael Morales, who is handling the prosecution, told The Associated Press, "There is no legal bar in going forward with a homicide prosecution just because a coroner has not classified it as a homicide."

Foti's office declined to comment on Minyard's statements.

CNN first reported that doctors and nurses openly discussed euthanizing patients at Memorial, owned by Tenet Healthcare, as medical equipment failed, temperatures soared, food supplies ran low and people could be seen ransacking nearby buildings after Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast on August 29.

Foti has argued that conditions were just as bad at other hospitals, but the lethal drug combination of morphine and Versed in the four Memorial patients was not found in patients who died in those facilities.

Story courtesy of CNN Newsource.

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