Doctor, Nurses Face Murder Accusations


Aug. 23, 2006 — -- At Memorial Medical Center, where 34 people died during Hurricane Katrina, empty wheelchairs still sit in the abandoned parking garage that served as a staging area for evacuations -- haunting reminders of a hellish week that resulted in accusations of murder against a respected doctor and two veteran nurses.

Watch Nightline's full report tonight at 11:35 p.m.

Those accusations, delivered with great fanfare last month by Louisiana Attorney General Charles Foti, have roiled the New Orleans medical community.

Colleagues have rushed to the defense of Dr. Anna Pou and nurses Lori Budo and Cheri Landry, accused of administering lethal injections to four acutely ill patients in a flooded hospital operating without electricity, running water and functioning toilets.

The three medical professionals were initially handcuffed and hauled away. They have since been released, and are awaiting formal charges pending a likely grand jury investigation.

"We're talking about people that pretended that maybe they were God," Foti said at a news conference announcing the arrests.

Dr. Dan Nuss, a professor at Louisiana State University Medical School, worked with all three of the accused at Memorial, and even shared a practice with Pou.

"To take three people who have dedicated their whole lives to helping other people and to subject them to this kind of microscope, which doesn't take into account the context in which these things transpired, I think is totally wrong," Nuss told "Nightline."

In an interview with ABC News, Foti defended his investigation, which lasted 10 months and filled two rooms with supporting documents.

"The facts are that there was probable cause to believe that this had happened, and we did what we had to do based on what the facts were after a lengthy, time-consuming, gut wrenching look at the facts," he said.

But the facts of what exactly happened at Memorial Medical Center on that Thursday after Katrina hit are now as muddy as the storm waters that overtook New Orleans.

That day, as evacuations were finally under way, doctors and nurses had to decide which patients could survive a tortuous route that led through a hole in a wall to a parking garage, then up to the roof and a helicopter pad.

Karen Sanford, a nurse who worked with all three, described the evacuation.

"You would bring them up on a stretcher to the hole in the wall and there was staff all lined up to put them on a spine board," she said. "There was a pickup truck that would be backed up to the hole on the other side to receive the patients."

The four patients that Pou and the two nurses are accused of killing all resided on Memorial's seventh floor -- a long-term acute care ward leased and operated by a separate company called "Lifecare," a floor overcrowded with patients evacuated earlier from another Lifecare facility.

"They were all severely ill, very critically ill patients that needed more intensive care than what they could receive from a nursing home or a skilled facility. Some of them were on vents, ventilators. They were all gravely ill patients," Sanford told ABC News.

The attorney general's office produced several incriminating statements from Lifecare administrators.

According to the state's affidavit, Pou allegedly told one of the Lifecare supervisors that some "patients remaining on the seventh floor were probably not going to survive" and that "a decision had been made to administer lethal doses" to these patients.

"They were evacuating the hospital. Everybody had to go. That's what they said. But my mom was still lying there," said Angela McManus, who'd been with her mother, a kidney cancer patient on the seventh floor.

Later that day, her 70-year-old mother died. Though she was not among those four who allegedly received lethal injections, a source in the attorney general's office calls her death "suspicious" and tells "Nightline" it is being "actively investigated."

"Mom was on the seventh floor of the Memorial hospital building and the helipad was on the ninth floor of the parking garage next door. They would have had to carry her down five flights, across a torn-up catwalk, up those other flights to the helipad. I think it would have been just too much trouble," McManus said.

According to the attorney general, autopsy reports from the four patients at Memorial whose deaths Pou and the two nurses are accused of causing indicate lethal amounts of morphine, a painkiller, and Versed, a central nervous system sedative.

At his news conference in July, Foti described the two drugs acting together as a lethal cocktail.

"Either one of them can kill you -- but when you use both together, it becomes a lethal cocktail that guarantees they're going to die," the attorney general said.

But Nuss disagrees.

"In fact, these two drugs are the two most common, or two of the most common drugs to relieve pain and anxiety that we ever use," he said. "And in an intensive care setting or an emergency setting, morphine and Versed would be wonderful drugs to relieve suffering. They'd actually be pretty lousy drugs to try and kill somebody."

So, nearly a year later, exactly what happened at Memorial Hospital that terrible week remains clouded in controversy.

Meanwhile, Pou, and nurses Budo and Landry could face life in prison without parole.

And now, many in the medical community in New Orleans, angry about the allegations against their colleagues, worry about what doctors and nurses will volunteer for the next big storm, knowing that their lives, reputations, and perhaps even prison will be on the line.

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