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Doctors Still Uncharged in Katrina Hospital Deaths

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Louisiana authorities made headlines last month when they arrested a doctor and two nurses and accused them of murder. The state's attorney general said the trio gave lethal injections to at least four patients at Memorial Hospital in New Orleans while the hospital was surrounded by floodwaters from Hurricane Katrina. But after making those allegations, authorities have been moving slowly, and in New Orleans the three suspects are getting support from a sympathetic and outspoken segment of the community.

NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.

CARRIE KAHN reporting:

Six weeks after the highly publicized arrest of the New Orleans doctor and two nurses, the three still have not been indicted or formally charged. The attorney general says it's in the hands of the district attorney. The D.A. says he can't convene a grand jury until he gets the final autopsy reports from the coroner. Until then, Dr. Anna Pou and nurses Laurie Budo and Sherrie Landry wait. Landry's lawyer, Eddie Castaing, says the wait is unbearable.

Mr. EDDIE CASTAING (Defense counsel): It's like a bad dream. She can't believe she's going through this.

KAHN: Castaing won't address specific allegations against his client, but he says the state has a heavy burden to prove that these women killed patients.

Mr. CASTAING: And I'm telling you right now, the state will never be able to prove that, because there was no intent to harm, to kill or to do anything other than to help very sick and needy people over a period of five hellish days.

KAHN: Registered nurse Cathy Green spent those five days at Memorial Hospital working with Budo and Landry in stifling heat, helplessly watching patients die.

Ms. CATHY GREEN (Registered Nurse): Patients would cry and say help me, and you're standing there with a cardboard fan saying I am helping you, and this is all you had to offer somebody was literally to pick up something about the size of this magazine, a piece of cardboard, and fan them.

KAHN: She says Budo and Landry never complained and stayed through the entire ordeal. Green says the two nurses were born at Memorial Hospital and have worked there together as a team for more than two decades. Green and other colleagues are now rallying to Budo and Landry's side.

Ms. GREEN: They're the best nurses that I know. I cannot think of any other nurse that could surpass them in skill and compassion. They are the best of the best, absolutely.

KAHN: That's a different characterization than the one Louisiana Attorney General Charles Foti gave at a press conference last month. He refused to call the patients' deaths mercy killings and said the three women were murderers.

Mr. CHARLES FOTI (Attorney General, Louisiana): This is not euthanasia. This is a homicide.

KAHN: Foti said the investigation isn't over and suggested that other health care providers may be involved. That's outraged New Orleans' medical community, which has responded with angry letters to the editor and full page ads supporting the three suspects. Dr. Pou's entire family is speaking out, too. Peggy Perino is her younger sister.

Mr. PEGGY PERINO (Younger Sister of Dr. Anna Pou): It's crazy. I mean, it's just totally absurd. Everyone who has ever known her and doesn't know her just thinks it's absolutely ridiculous.

KAHN: Perino sits at a park on the banks of the Mississippi River, a place she says she and her sister loved to come to as kids. Perino says Dr. Pou has always been a caregiver and no matter how dire the conditions got at Memorial Hospital, there is no way she'd ever inject a patient with a lethal dose of drugs.

Ms. PERINO: She spent her whole life, you know, trying to save people and it would just be totally out of character for her to do something like this.

KAHN: She says you just don't change a lifetime of behavior because of one disaster. Dr. Pou remains on paid administrative leave. The two nurses, Laurie Budo and Sherrie Landry, were both dismissed from their jobs without pay.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.