Prosecutor Drops Case Against 2 Nurses in Four Post-Katrina Deaths

By Mary Foster
Associated Press
Wednesday, July 4, 2007

NEW ORLEANS, July 3 -- The district attorney has dropped the case against two nurses in the deaths of four patients at a New Orleans hospital after Hurricane Katrina.

Nurses Lori Budo and Cheri Landry, as well as physician Anna Pou, were arrested last summer and charged with being principals to second-degree murder, which carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison.

"We're very pleased. We thought this was how it would end," John DiGiulio, Landry's attorney, said Tuesday. "We're cautiously optimistic that, when it's all over, no one will be charged -- including Dr. Pou."

State Attorney General Charles C. Foti Jr. contended that the three medical professionals killed four people with a "lethal cocktail" at Memorial Medical Center during the chaotic conditions that followed the August 2005 storm. Defense attorneys said the three acted heroically, staying to treat patients rather than evacuating. No charges were ever filed.

Budo and Landry were compelled to testify last month before a grand jury, under legal guidelines that precluded their testimony from being used against them. They waived their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

Assistant District Attorney Michael Morales, in a filing with the Louisiana Supreme Court, had stated that he would refuse second-degree murder charges, essentially dropping the case, against Budo and Landry once they have testified.

Charges against Budo were refused Friday, while those against Landry were refused June 22, according to state court records.

"It is important to understand that Lori Budo did not testify for or against anyone," said Eddie Castaing, Budo's attorney. "Her only position was always to only tell the truth. We believe in the end that the grand jury will determine that no crimes were committed by anyone."

Although testimony before a grand jury is secret, DiGiulio said there is no reason to believe that the nurses testified against Pou. The physician remains free on $100,000 bond.

"All along, Dr. Pou and the nurses have contended that there was no criminal wrongdoing in connection with their conduct at Memorial Hospital," said Rick Simmons, Pou's attorney. "We are glad that the charges against the nurses have been dismissed and look forward to a similar result with regard to Dr. Pou."

After Katrina broke levees on Aug. 29, 2005, flooding 80 percent of the city, the lower level of the 317-bed Memorial Medical Center was under 10 feet of water. After the electricity failed, temperatures inside the hospital topped 100 degrees.

At least 34 people died at the hospital, many succumbing to dehydration, as they waited for evacuation by rescue workers, who came four days later.

The four victims Pou is accused of killing, ranging in age from 61 to 90, would have survived if not for the morphine and midazolam hydrochloride administered to them, Foti said. The drugs are central-nervous-system depressants.

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