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Doctor Held in Alleged Drug Death of His Wife

June 04, 1985|PATRICIA KLEIN | Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles police Monday arrested a San Fernando Valley neurosurgeon on suspicion of murdering his wife last year by injecting her with a massive overdose of the painkiller drug Demerol.

Dr. Stephen M. Levine, 42, was arrested by detectives about 1:30 p.m. at his medical clinic at 21317 Devonshire St. in Chatsworth, police said. He is accused of murdering his wife, Myrna, 29, in the couple's Tarzana home on May 12, 1984.

Police said Monday they are continuing to investigate Stephen Levine's older brother, Dr. David Levine, 43, an orthopedist, on suspicion of being an accessory to the killing.

An affidavit filed by police last fall in connection with the death alleges that David Levine, also of Studio City, conspired with his brother to cover up Myrna Levine's death.

Brothers Are Partners

The brothers are partners in the Chatsworth clinic and in La Cienega Medical Group, 3344 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles, police said. Stephen Levine also operates an office at 8920 Wilshire Blvd. and is on the staff of several major hospitals, including Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

Stephen Levine, who now lives in Studio City, surrendered without resistance, and was taken to West Valley Station Jail where he was being held without bail, police said.

Police intend to present the murder case against Stephen Levine to the district attorney's office by Wednesday and will also seek multiple prescription-violation counts against him, Lt. Bill Gaida said.

For more than a year police have worked closely with the medical-legal unit of the district attorney's office, and at first they planned to delay arrest of the doctor until charges were filed against him.

Unhappy With Delays

But, unhappy with repeated delays in filing the charges, Deputy Police Chief Dan Sullivan ordered the arrests made on Monday, sources close to the case said.

"I think it's a little unusual that they would arrest someone without consulting us after working so long," said district attorney's spokesman Al Albergate.

He noted that the deputy district attorney originally assigned to the case had requested a transfer. But he declined to elaborate on his office's position on the case.

Stephen Levine's attorney, Dan Marmalefsky, said he does not expect charges to be filed in the case.

"The police have acted entirely on their own without the knowledge or acquiescence of the district attorney's office, which is still in the process of evaluating this case," Marmalefsky said.

He said the arrest of his client took both himself and the district attorney's office by surprise. "I was the one who told the district attorney's office about the arrest. They were quite surprised to hear it from me," Marmalefsky said.

Marmalefsky said the deputy district attorney formerly assigned to the case had agreed to discuss the case with him before any charges were filed. He said it had been agreed that Stephen Levine could turn himself in if any charges were to be filed.

According to a police affidavit filed in Van Nuys Municipal Court last fall in connection with the case, Stephen Levine found his wife dead in bed about 9:20 a.m. and called his brother, who went to the house. David Levine pronounced his sister-in-law dead and wrote a death certificate listing the cause of death as cardiac arrest, the affidavit said.

Neither brother informed paramedics or police of the death, which came to the Police Department's attention the next day after the dead woman's sister and brother, Carol and George Gonzalez, took three empty bottles of Demerol to detectives, according to the police affidavit.

The affidavit, written by Detective Patrick Conmay and presented in October to Municipal Court Judge Leslie A. Dunn, said an autopsy performed at the request of police detected a level of Demerol 24 to 48 times the amount that would be present under normal medical use.

The coroner's office also found numerous puncture wounds and other signs of prolonged narcotics use, the affidavit said. The detective who witnessed the autopsy said he counted more than 140 puncture marks on the victim's thighs, hips and buttocks.

Drugs Supported Habit

Police say the doctor procured drugs to support his wife's addiction to Demerol, a narcotic used to ease pain, by writing prescriptions for a patient named "Robert Kaufman."

A police investigation found that Stephen Levine had written more than 115 prescriptions for Demerol to that name, according to the document. The address given for "Robert Kaufman" was a Los Angeles residence found by investigators to have been vacant since March, 1983, the affidavit said.

Several pharmacists identified Stephen Levine as the man who picked up the Demerol, the court document said.

According to an investigative report of the state Board of Medical Quality Assurance filed with the affidavit, Stephen Levine also aroused suspicion that he himself was using Demerol by seeking the drug late at night from two Valley hospitals.

Hedy Mendez, one of the dead woman's sisters, portrayed her to police as a hypochondriac who claimed she needed Demerol for cancer and other ailments.

Used Phony Name

Mendez told police her sister at times used the name Beatrice Ruth Juliette de Rothschild and falsely claimed to be an offspring of the wealthy French family bearing that surname.

Commenting on the police affidavit last year, David Levine's lawyer, Paul Fitzgerald said his client did not see the needle marks on the woman because they were on her lower back and legs.

A spokesman for the Board of Medical Quality Assurance said the agency would follow its usual policy of waiting until criminal proceedings were resolved before continuing its own investigation of Stephen Levine.

Until that time, he could continue to practice medicine, the spokesman said.

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