Anna Pou Case Takes Unexpected Turns
In mid-January, supporters of Dr. Anna Pou, the New Orleans physician accused of administering lethal overdoses of painkillers to elderly hospital patients in the harrowing days following Hurricane Katrina, rallied a last-minute campaign to stop ABC's "Boston Legal" from airing the episode, "Angel of Death," based on a case that strikingly resembles Pou's.

After spoilers reported the outcome was a guilty verdict on four cases of murder, supporters were concerned the story line would taint viewers' opinions about the Louisiana case.

"I'm quite disappointed about the subject matter, to say the least," said Dr. Michael Ellis, former president of the Louisiana Medical Society. "The O.J. Simpson show was pulled because of public opinion. Maybe we can help to have something done about this travesty."

Supporters were unable to stop the episode from airing on Jan. 9. However, whether the ending was changed because the network came under pressure or spoiler reports were inaccurate, the outcome in the fictional case of Orleans Parish vs. Dr. Donna Follette was not guilty, thanks to the aid of fictional attorney Alan Shore, whose closing argument was "spot on," according to former Lakeview resident Larry A. Bergeron.

"Tonight's episode was close to home, both geographically and professionally," blogged a viewer, minutes after the show aired. "The healthcare workers who remained in those hospitals are heroes, not criminals."

Early last month, a development in the Pou case sparked an unexpected turn when New Orleans coroner Frank Minyard ruled there was no physical evidence of homicide. After consulting with some of the nation's leading forensic experts, Minyard classified all four deaths as "undetermined," meaning he could not conclusively say they died by accident, suicide or homicide or from natural causes.

"We did everything we were asked to do," explained Minyard. "We took toxicology and sent it up to one of the best labs in the country for them to analyze. But as we stand now, with all of the consultants we have used in our investigation, the classification is undetermined."

Despite the ruling, District Attorney Eddie Jordan proceeded with plans to present the case to a grand jury in mid-February, with testimony slated to begin the following week. (At press time, the case had not been presented to the grand jury.)

Pou and nurses Lori Budo and Cheri Landry were arrested last summer after Attorney General Charles Foti determined they conspired to deliver lethal injections of morphine and sedatives to four patients shortly before the floodwaters-ridden hospital was evacuated.

"Our attorney general handled the matter abominably," said Ellis. "For purposes of self-aggrandizement, he made a mockery of the legal process. For him to go before international media and destroy the lives of three good people when his very job description is to uphold the law, and rule upon it, is an insult to the legal profession."

Ellis said Foti additionally abused his power as the authority charged with defending state healthcare employees from malpractice, "and yet has the audacity to refuse legal defense or liability coverage to these providers without granting them the 'innocence until proven guilty' promise of our constitution. 'Tis sad that he will never be held accountable in the very manner he seeks to impose upon others."

Ellis said he was gravely concerned "for the economic and professional damage suffered by this good doctor and two nurses, but also for the patients who may have to pay for the lack of professionals in the future … who fear such abuse by the legal leadership of our state. What doctor or nurse can afford to offer their services in emergencies or disasters when they can see what can happen to them without the benefit of a fair hearing or trial? And worse, that there is no emotional, professional or financial compensation when ultimately proven innocent?"

International media is following the Pou case as closely as the Duke lacrosse rape case, in which three players were charged with raping a stripper at a team party last March. After unrelenting criticism about mishandling the scandalous case, District Attorney Mike Nifong asked Attorney General Roy Cooper to take over the case in mid-January, citing a conflict of interest following ethics charges filed against him by the state bar association.

Even though the two cases are drastically different, both district attorneys have been chastised for manipulating the cases to further their careers by trampling senselessly on the reputations of those charged with crimes.

"Most of us local physicians and nurses are trained here in Louisiana," explained Ellis, about the medical community's support of Pou. "We grew up here, nurses and doctors alike. We are part of a big 'healing' family. We didn't go into the healing profession to go around killing people. It's abhorrent to all of us in the medical family that some of our most respected colleagues, well known personally to so many of us, could be so horribly and unjustly attacked in such a vicious and inappropriate manner. The legal system is forever saying how we should be held accountable for our medical errors.

"Shame on our entire legal community for allowing such a travesty to occur."

March 2007

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