A federal grand jury yesterday indicted former Washington abortionist Dr. Robert J. Sherman on a second degree murder charge in connection with an incomplete abortion he performed on a 16 year old patient three years ago.
In a 44 page, unusually detailed indictment handed down yesterday in D.C. Superior Court, the grand jury also charged Sherman, 65, on 17 counts of perjury and nine counts of inducing three employes to lie about medical procedures in Sherman's abortion clinic.
A bench warrant was issued for Sherman's arrest after the indictment was returned yesterday. Sherman, whose license to practice medicine in Washington was revoked last fall, is still licensed to practice in Virginia. He maintains a general medicine and gynecology practice in a Richmond suburb where he also is employed by the Richmond Health Depaartment, sources said.
The indictment, alleges that on March 4, 1975, Sherman performed an incomplete abortion on Rita McDowell, causing injuries that resulted in her death four days later of blood poisoning and shock.
The patient's mother, Lupe M. McDowell, later filed a medical malpractice suit against Sherman, which led to his admission that his negligence caused the death of her daughter. McDowell had been a cleaning woman at the State Department.
In court papers at that time, some of Sherman's former employes accused him of running a "slopping, haphazard, improperly staffed, over crowded clinic." His clinic was located at 1835 I St. NW and was known as the Columbis Family Planning Clinic.
Last September the city's Commission on Licensure to Practice the Healing Art revoked Sherman's license to practice medicine in Washington. The decision followed the commission's stated determination that Sherman was more concerned with his fees than with the welfare of his patients, that improperly sterilized instruments were used and that he allowed unqualified personnel to perform medical procedures on patients.
Sherman, the commission said in a report, "place very little value on the life of his abortion patients."
It was disclosed the following October that the U.S. attorney's office had begun a massive investigation of Sherman's Washington practice, which included review of thousands of pages of testimony before the medical licensing board.
The case had first come to the public's attention when The Washington Post published a series of articles about the clinic and Dr. Sherman after civil suits were filed by former patients and their families.
The perjury charges included in the indictment yesterday relate to statements made by Sherman during the grand jury's investigation of the case, statements made by him before the medical licensing board and also statements made in sworn depositions taken in connection with the civil law-suit brought by Rita McDowell's mother.
The indictment charged that Sherman made false statements to the grand jury when he denied that unclean instruments were reused during medical procedures and when he denied that he illegally performed abortions in his office on patients who were more than 12 weeks pregnant.
The indictment also charged that Sherman falsely told the grand jury the medical records of Rita McDowell had not been altered after her death to indicate that she was 12 weeks pregnant at the time of her abortion.
In an effort to determine whether the doctor had altered McDowell's medical records "to cover up that he had recklessly and maliciously treated" her, the grand jury questioned Sherman. The indictment alleges that Sherman perjured himself when he answered the grand jury's questions about the matter.
Sherman also lied when he testified before the grand jury about appointment books kept in his office, the indictment said.
Moreover, the indictment said, Sherman falsely testified before the grand jury that in 1973, when he organized his clinic, he drew up a set of policy and procedure standards.
At the time Sherman operated the clinic, professional medical standards for outpatient abortion clinics had been adopted by the Medical Society of the District of Columbia and by Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, D.C., according to report by the medical licensing board.
Other perjury charges in the indictment related to Sherman's alleged denial that nonphysician employes performed medical procedures on his patients and to statements he made alleagedly made about tests that he said were performed on patients before the abortion procedures.
Both before the medical licensing board and in depositions in connection with the McDwell suit, the indictment charged, Sherman made false statements about medical procedures in his clinic.
Nine counts of the indictment charge that Sherman induced three former employers of the clinic to make false statements. Those statements dealt with sterilization techniques used in Sherman's office and whether untrained employes performed medical procedures on patients. The allegedly false statements were made both before the commission that eventually revoked. Sherman's Washington license andin depositions related to the McDowell suit.