Dr. Robert J. Sherman deliberatedly performed incomplete abortions, used unsterile instruments and ignored medical standards in order to save time and increase profits at the abortion clinic he once ran in Norwest Washington, a government prosecutor told a D.C. Superior Court jury yesterday.
Principal Assistant U.S. Attorney Carl S. Rauh, in a lengthy, detailed opening statement to the jury, said the government would prove that it was Sherman's malicious disregard for the safety of his patients that led him to perform an incomplete abortion on a 16-year-old high school student that resulted in her death.
Rauh said the government's evidence would show that Sherman, 65, who is charged with second-degree murder, then altered and forged procedures at the clinic, and induced others to lie for him to cover up the circumstances surrounding the death of Rita McDowell.
Defense attorney Robert F. Muse, however, cautioned the jury that "there are two sides to this case," and said defense evidence would show that a doctor's decisions are not based on fixed standard or rules but are the product of a combination of "medical judgment" and "sound medical principles."
The "evidence will show that Dr. Robert Sherman exercised good medical judgment when he treated Rita McDowell," Muse said in his opening statement to the jury of seven women and five men.
Muse described his client as a compassionate, decent doctor who cared about his patients." Muse said patients will testify in Sherman's defense that he was "generous" and "not gready" and that he "treated them for free." Doctors who referred women to Sherman's abortion clinic will also testify in his behalf, Muse said.
Muse outlined the defense's contention that Rita McDowell's death on March 8, 1975, four days after the abortion procedure, resulted from "poor treatment" she received at D.C. General Hospital, not from Sherman's conduct.
The defense evidence will show that while McDowell was under treatment at D.C. General Hospital, doctors made 12 to 20 attempts to insert a needle to her chest cavity as part of medical procedure to monitor the pumping of her heart, Muse said.
As a result of the punctures, Muse said, blood collected in McDowell's chest cavity and led to her death.
The prosecution, however, contends that McDowell died of massive blood poisoning, kidney failure, and shock - all of which resulted from the incomplete abortion of a 16-week-old fetus.
Rauh told the jury that two city medical examiners would testify McDowell died as a result of the infection that followed the incomplete abortion.
He contended that Sherman regularly performed abortions in his office on women who were more than 12 weeks pregnant, a violation of medical standards that required that such procedures be performed in a hospital.
Defense attorney Muse said, however, that evidence will show McDowell was less than 12 weeks pregnant, not 16 weeks as the government contends.
Following opening statements, the jury heard testimony yesterday from Dr. Mar A. Jerome is the medical director of Preterm, Washington's largest abortion clinic.
Judge Fred B. Ugast allowed Jerome to testify as an expert in abortions and the standard of care to be used in such procedures.
Jerome then told the jury about counseling, testing and abortion procedures used at Preterm, which the government contends stand in sharp contrast to the practices at Sherman's clinic.
To assist the jury in understanding Jerome's testimony, he narrated a 20-minute color videotape of an actual abortion procedure conducted at a Boston clinic.
Under questioning by Rauth, Jermone testified that in his opinion, the instrument Sherman used when to terminate a pregnancy of 16 weeks' duration, and would result in an intestimony Monday.
Jerome is expected to continue his testimony Monday.
Sherman, whose license to practice medicine in Washington was revoked a year ago, now lives near Richmond. He was charged in an indictment handed down last April with second-degree murder and 26 perjury charges related to procedures at his abortion clinic. He has denied all the charges.