Katrina nurses might be forced to testify against physician

The New Orleans DA's office drops all charges against the two nurses, but Dr. Pou's fate still hangs in the balance.

By Kevin B. O’Reilly — Posted July 23, 2007

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Two nurses accused last year of conspiring to murder four hospital patients in the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 could be forced to testify against their alleged physician co-conspirator, Anna Maria Pou, MD, in front of a grand jury.

New Orleans authorities offered not to charge the nurses, Cheri Landry and Lori Budo, in exchange for testimony. When they refused, Orleans Parish Assistant District Attorney Michael Morales filed a motion to compel their testimony, The Times-Picayune reported. The nurses unsuccessfully fought the motion in the Louisiana Supreme Court. Lawyers for the nurses said the women are reluctant to testify because authorities still could indict them based on other evidence, though Morales has formally dropped the charges.

The nurses and Dr. Pou, an otolaryngologist, stayed behind to help care for patients trapped at New Orleans' Memorial Medical Center in 100-degree heat with no running water or electricity. Last summer, Louisiana Attorney General Charles Foti Jr. arrested the three women, accusing them of conspiring to murder the four patients using a lethal combination of morphine and sedatives. But they were not formally charged, and Foti referred the case to the Orleans Parish District Attorney's office. All three women, who are free on bond, have said they are innocent and were trying only to treat the patients' pain and discomfort.

In January, Orleans Parish Coroner Frank Minyard classified the patients' deaths as "undetermined" -- not homicides -- after months of consultation with forensic experts from around the country.

Dr. Pou's lawyer, Richard T. Simmons, said in a statement that "immunity grants are a routine part of the grand jury process" and not "inherently problematic for Dr. Pou." Simmons said he is "confident that all three medical professionals will be exonerated and will have their lives and reputations fully restored."

In a statement released last fall, then AMA board Chair Cecil B. Wilson, MD, said Dr. Pou and the nurses are entitled to "due process" and "full and fair treatment by our judicial system." He added that the AMA has clear policy opposing "the criminalization of medical judgment."

Then Louisiana State Medical Society President Floyd A. Buras, MD, said in a September 2006 statement that the society is "confident that Dr. Pou performed courageously under the most challenging and horrific conditions and made decisions in the best interest of her patients."

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