Defense lawyers for Robert J. Sherman, the doctor charged with causing a 16-year-old patient's death as a result of an incomplete abortion, apparently will try to blame the death on grossly negligent treatment at D.C. General Hospital, where the woman died four days after the procedure.
Sherman's defense to a second-degree murder charge began to emerge during a lengthy heading in D.C. Superior Court yesterday afternoon. The hearing before Judge Fred B. Gast was maked by frequent, acrimonious statements by defense and prosecution lawyers.
Yesterday's hearing, which led Ugast to postpone opening statements to the jury until today, set a sharp tone at the outset of SHerman's trial, expected to take more than a month to complete.
After a broad investigation by the U.S. attorney's office, here, Sherman was indicted last April for second-degree murder, 17 counts of perjury and nine counts that he induced three former employes to lie for him about practices and procedures at an abortion clinic he once ran at 1835 I st. NW.
Sherman, 65, pleaded innocent to all charges. A year ago, the D.C. Commission on Licensure to Practice the Healing Art revoked Sherman's license to practice medicine here. He now lives outside Richmond and has told the court that his sole income is a $63 a month government pension.
Over the strenuous objections fo Sherman's defense lawyers, Ugast yesterday read the jury general definitions of the crimes, to assist them in understanding the evidence to be presented during the trial.
To convict Sherman of second-degree murder, Ugast told the jury, the government must prove that he maliciously inflicted an injury on his patient, Rita McDowell, that resulted in her death. Malice, Ugast explained, is " a state of mind " that shows a heartless disregard of the life and safety of others.
Principal Assistant U.S. Attorney Carl S. Rauh, who along with assistant U.S. Attorney Whitney Adams represents the government in the case, told Ugast earlier that the Prosecution would show malice deliberately performed incomplete abortions, used unclean instruments, and allowed unqualified personnel to perform medical procedures in order to maximize profits at his clinic.
Ugast also instructed the jury on the defense theory that if the medical treatment after the abortion was the sole cause of Rita McDowell's death, Sherman must be acquitted of the murder charge.
Sherman is represented by Robert Muse and Constance O'Bryant of the city's Public Defender Service.
Opening statements, scheduled for 9 a.m. today, are expected to take up most of the morning court session.
Rauh told Ugast yesterday that the government's first witness would be Dr. Marc Jerome, the medical director of Preterm, a well-known Washington abortion clinic. Jerome is expected to testify about medically acceptable abortion procedures and would narrate a 20-minute film of an abortion to be shown to the jury.
The government has told Ugast it anticipates that it will present testimony by 50 witnesses. Defense lawyers said they may call 100 witnesses.