The second degree murder and perjury trial of former Washington abortionist Dr. Robert J. Sherman was briefly delayed yesterday while Judge Fred B. Ugast privately questioned five jurors about their attendance at other proceedings in D.C. Superior Court during time off from the Sherman case.
After the interviews. Ugast made it clear to the jurors that they had done nothing improper. But he asked the entire panel of 12 jurors and three alternates not to attend other court proceedings while the Sherman trial is in progress. The jury is expected to begin deliberations next week.
The matter came to Ugast's attention Tuesday after two Sherman jurors were observed at the trial of two Washington brothers accused of the murder of a narcotics dealer. Those jurors, both women, were present when Judge John F. Doyle accepted guilty verdicts from the jury in that case. Both Sherman jurors also were observed at the same murder trial one day last week.
Yesterday morning. Ugast discussed the matter with prosection and defense lawyers in the Sherman case. He then asked the full jury panel if any of them had attended other Superior Court proceedings during their free time in the Sherman case. Five jurors raised their hands and acknowledged they had.
After the issue was resolved, the trial, now in its sixth week, resumed with testimony from an expert medical witness for the government who contradicted evidence from defense experts earlier in the trial about the treatment of 16-year-old Rita McDowell at D.C. General Hospital.
McDowell died in the hospital's intensive care unit on March 8, 1975, four days after she went to Sherman's clinic at 1835 I St. NW for an abortion. The government contends that McDowells death was caused by shock and blood poisoning due to an abortion. The defense argues that McDowell's death was caused by grossly negligent treatment at D.C. General.
Yesterday, Dr. Edward Hook, chief of the department of medicine at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, testified that in his opinion. McDowell's condition was so serious when she entered the hospital that "death was almost inevitable. . ."
Hook, who had reviewed McDowell's medical records, disagreed with a defense expert who had testified that some changes in McDowell's condition during her treatment at the hospital left room fro optimism about her chances for survival.
Hook also testified that in his opinion there was no evidence in the record to indicate that the source of McDowell's infection was her urinary tract, contrary to testimony from a defense expert.
Hook also testified that in his opinion. McDowell's treatment at D.C. General was consistent with good medical standards and that doctors there are justified in making repeated attempts to reinsert a needle in her chest as part of a medical procedure, , which Hook described as "essential" to her treatment.