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    Grand Jury declines homicide charges

    Grand Jury declines homicide charges against Memorial Dr. Anna Pou

    05:49 PM CDT on Tuesday, July 24, 2007

    A grand jury refused Tuesday to indict a surgeon accused of murdering four seriously ill patients with high doses of painkillers in a putrid hospital in the desperate days after Hurricane Katrina, apparently closing the books on the only criminal mercy-killing case to emerge from the storm.

    Dr. Anna Pou and two nurses were arrested last summer after Attorney General Charles Foti's investigation concluded they gave four patients a "lethal cocktail" at Memorial Medical Center amid the chaotic conditions that followed the August 2005 storm.

    At a news conference called after the trio was arrested, Foti had said: "This is not euthanasia. This is homicide."

    "We're talking about people that pretended that maybe they were God," Foti said. "And they made that decision."

    At a news conference Tuesday afternoon, Pou thanked family members and other supporters. Regarding her feelings toward Foti, she said she "puts his fate in God's hands."

    Pou was at home when she heard the about the grand jury's decision. "I fell to my knees and thanked God," she said. "This has been an extremely trying time."

    Rather than a triumph, Pou said she felt the decision was a memorial to all who had died after Hurricane Katrina. "We need to remember the magnitude of human suffering following the storm," she said.

    Pou said afterward she would stay in a hospital on duty if another hurricane threatened. She urged officials to require evacuation of hospitals for storms stronger than Category 2.

    She believes her ordeal will keep other medical professionals from remaining during storms.

    "I think it will make it difficult for clinicians to deliver care," Pou said. "Especially for patients that are not theirs."

    Many hospitals in the region remain closed or are operating with reduced services nearly two years after Katrina. They also report difficulty in attracting and keeping medical staff.

    Pou had emphatically denied murdering anyone, and lawyers for the three have said they acted heroically by staying to treat patients rather than evacuating.

    "I did not murder those patients," Pou told CBS' "60 Minutes" last fall. "I've spent my entire life taking care of patients. I have no history of doing anything other than good for my patients."

    In a December 2005 interview, she told WBRZ-TV of Baton Rouge: "There were some patients there who were critically ill who, regardless of the storm, had the orders of do not resuscitate. In other words, if they died, to allow them to die naturally, and to not use heroic methods to resuscitate them."

    "We all did everything in our power to give the best treatment that we could to the patients in the hospital to make them comfortable," Pou said told the station.

    On Tuesday, Pou, who said she hoped to resume her practice as quickly as possible, refused to answer questions about what happened at the hospital because of civil cases still pending. Four lawsuits have been filed by families of three patients.

    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.

    Budo's attorney, Eddie Castaing, called the grand jury's decision proof that none of the three should ever have been arrested.

    Assistant District Attorney Michael Morales had asked the grand jurors to return one charge of second-degree murder and nine of murder conspiracy against Pou. He declined to comment after the Judge Calvin Johnson read their decisions rejecting each charge.

    "I feel the grand jury did the right thing," said District Attorney Eddie Jordan, who took over the case in March after Foti's office started the investigation.

    Sentiment in the community seemed to be running in favor of Pou. Last week a group of doctors and nurses held a rally on the anniversary of Pou's arrest. Hundreds turned out to show support. Clarence Singleton, who was selling seafood lunches Tuesday near the Louisiana Superdome, said he had been opposed to Pou's arrest. "You look at a lady who's trying to help the community, and they try to indict her," Singleton said.

    When the levees broke in New Orleans following the hurricane's landfall, 80 percent of the city flooded. The lower level Memorial Medical Center was under 10 feet of water, and electricity was out across the city. Inside the hospital, the temperature topped 100 degrees.

    At least 34 people died at Memorial, many from dehydration during the four-day wait for rescuers to evacuate them. In the "60 Minutes" interview, Pou acknowledged administering drugs to relieve pain but 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 MASH unit during wartime rather than an urban American hospital.

    "It was stifling. We were hoisting patients floor to floor on the backs of strong young men. It was as bad as you can imagine," Dr. Gregory Vorhoff, who stayed throughout the storm and eventually hitched a ride on a boat to seek help, told The Associated Press after Pou was arrested.

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

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

    Pou, whose specialty is eye, ear, nose and throat cancer surgery, gave up her private practice after she was arrested and has been teaching at LSU medical school in Baton Rouge.

    The families of people who died at Memorial in the days after Katrina can still sue Pou.

    Assistant Attorney General Julie Cullen, who sat in on the grand jury hearings, said investigators in her office still consider the deaths to be homicides.

    Asked what the grand jury's decision does for Pou's reputation, she said, "I guess that depends on who's considering her reputation."

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