Katrina doctor won't be indicted
The surgeon accused of giving lethal injections to four hospital patients in the hurricane's wake still faces civil suits.
By Miguel Bustillo, Times Staff Writer
July 25, 2007

NEW ORLEANS - A grand jury on Tuesday refused to indict a surgeon who was accused of murdering four hospital patients by lethal injection during the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The decision ends a sensational prosecution attempt by Louisiana's attorney general that enraged New Orleans' medical community.

After meeting for four months, the Orleans Parish grand jury declined to indict Dr. Anna Maria Pou on any of the 10 charges against her, which included second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit second-degree murder.

Charges against Cheri A. Landry and Lori L. Budo, two nurses arrested along with Pou, had been dropped after they agreed to testify before the grand jury.

"All of us need to remember the magnitude of human suffering that occurred in the city of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina so that we can ensure that it never happens again, and no healthcare worker is falsely accused in a rush to judgment," a tearful Pou said during a news conference with her attorney.

Asked how she reacted upon hearing the news, Pou, 51, said: "I fell to my knees and thanked God for helping me."

Pou still refused to say whether she injected any of the victims with drugs, noting that their families were still pursuing civil lawsuits against her.

A cancer surgeon who worked as a professor at Louisiana State University, Pou was one of a hardy group of doctors and nurses who stayed at New Orleans' Memorial Medical Center through the 2005 storm.

Many of her colleagues regarded the case as an outrageous attack on an esteemed professional who had done her best to save lives under unimaginable conditions. At least 34 patients died in the hospital, which lost power and was inundated with 10 feet of water after the hurricane.

Louisiana Atty. Gen. Charles C. Foti Jr. shocked many last July when he conducted a surprise arrest of Pou, who was still in her hospital scrubs after performing a surgery. Foti said a probe by his office had found that she and the nurses killed four frail patients, aged 66 to 90, with a "lethal cocktail" of painkillers and sedatives. In a nationally televised news conference, he declared: "This is not euthanasia. This is homicide."

Foti later passed the results of his investigation to New Orleans Dist. Atty. Eddie J. Jordan Jr. for prosecution, and the case expanded to nine alleged victims. It suffered a blow in February when the Orleans Parish coroner concluded that he could not classify the deaths as homicides. The patients in question were in a care facility for the seriously ill; Pou had been tending to them because the doctor who was supposed to did not show up.

Jordan, who briefly attended the grand jury proceedings Tuesday, did not criticize its decision, saying justice had been served.

Foti, meanwhile, defended his actions. "The dedicated employees of the attorney general's office have done their duty as required by federal and state law, and I am very proud of our efforts on behalf of the victims and their families," he said in brief statement. Foti declined to be interviewed.

The grand jury's decision ends criminal proceedings against Pou - and leaves in limbo a number of civil lawsuits filed by victims' families. Some lawyers tried to argue that the grand jury should have brought clarity to the cases by pointing the finger at the hospital, which was formerly owned by Tenet Healthcare.

"The fact that the grand jury did not lay blame on the healthcare [workers] shows that the responsibility for the horrors that happened to these victims rests elsewhere," said Edward P. Gothard, an attorney who filed a lawsuit on behalf of the daughter of Ireatha Butler Watson, 89, one of the four patients Foti initially accused Pou of murdering. The suit did not target Pou.

Pou's supporters said the attorney general's claims were an attempt to garner publicity and lacked substance from the start. Friends and medical organizations launched websites and defense funds to support the surgeon and two nurses. Just last week, Pou's friends organized a rally at New Orleans' City Park on her behalf.

"Beyond a shadow of a doubt, these three individuals were true professionals who went beyond the call of duty. Charles Foti should be ashamed of himself," said Cathy Green, a nurse who served at Memorial during the hurricane.

Despite her nearly two-year ordeal, Pou was unequivocal Tuesday when asked if she would work through another hurricane.

"In a heartbeat, if they need me," she replied. "I would definitely stay."


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