A San Fernando Valley neurosurgeon was charged with murder Thursday for allegedly supplying his addict wife with large doses of a painkiller that led to her death last year. The man's brother, an orthopedic surgeon, was charged with helping to cover up the cause of death.
Dr. Stephen M. Levine, 42, and Dr. David L. Levine, 43, both of Studio City, pleaded not guilty to the charges and were freed on $50,000 bail and $5,000 bail, respectively. Los Angeles Municipal Court Judge Elva Soper set a preliminary hearing for Dec. 11.
Stephen Levine was charged with one count of murder and 44 other felony counts accusing him of providing his wife, Myrna Levine, with the drug Demerol, Deputy Dist. Atty. Robert Dawson said. The woman died in May, 1984, at the Tarzana home she and her husband shared.
David Levine was charged on three felony counts of giving Demerol to a known addict and being an accessory after the fact by listing a false cause of death on the death certificate.
'Wild About His Wife'
Gerson Horn, Stephen Levine's attorney, said his client is "definitely not guilty of murder." The neurosurgeon "was so wild about his wife he would do anything for her. There was absolutely no criminal intent in this case," Horn said.
David Levine's attorney, Paul Fitzgerald, also denied the charges. "My guy didn't do anything," Fitzgerald said. "He just signed the death certificate, not knowing anything about any drug usage."
This is the second start of criminal proceedings in the case. Los Angeles police arrested Stephen Levine in June on suspicion of murder, but the district attorney's office refused to file charges, citing a lack of evidence.
Dawson said Thursday that investigators now have a "strong case" with "more than enough" evidence to bring the two physicians to trial. He said prosecutors may not press for a first-degree murder conviction, "but we want at least second-degree."
Dawson said an important part of the investigation was determining how long Stephen Levine may have known about his wife's drug addiction.
"The problem here is, a doctor should think of other means to prevent drug addiction, or at least find a way of getting her off drugs," Dawson said. "Stephen Levine just kept giving her the stuff."
Addicted 6 Years, Prosecutor Says
Dawson said that Myrna Levine, 32, had been addicted to drugs for as long as six years before her death. She injected the drugs herself on the day she died, he said.
Dawson refused to say what prosecutors believe Stephen Levine's motive was for supplying the drugs.
Demerol is a narcotic often used as a painkiller. It has a high potential for abuse and should be prescribed with the same cautions as morphine, according to the Physicians' Desk Reference.
Prosecutors allege that Myrna Levine died May 12, 1984, of an overdose of Demerol that had been supplied by her husband. After finding her body, they said, Stephen Levine called his brother, who came to the home and signed a death certificate listing the cause of death as cardiac arrest and a mineral imbalance.
Neither paramedics nor police were called to the scene, officials said. Police became suspicious the next day when relatives of the dead woman told investigators that Stephen Levine had been supplying his wife with drugs.
In an affidavit for a search warrant filed in Los Angeles Municipal Court in October, police homicide Detective Patrick Conmay said an autopsy on Myrna Levine's body performed May 15 detected levels of Demerol 24 to 48 times the amount that would indicate normal medical use. The coroner found more than 140 needle marks on the body's thighs, hips and buttocks, he said.
In his affidavit, Conmay said Stephen Levine provided his wife with the drug by writing prescriptions for a fictitious patient, "Robert Kaufman." Many of the prescriptions listed the patient's address as that of a Los Angeles house that once was owned by entertainer Bing Crosby, the affidavit said. The residence has been vacant since March, 1983, investigators said.
Dawson said Stephen Levine issued more than 225 Demerol prescriptions to his wife during the last 14 months of her life.
Defense attorney Horn said Myrna Levine had been a "manipulative person" who had managed to convince more than a dozen physicians that she needed drugs for a variety of medical reasons. The couple had been married for 12 years.
If convicted, Stephen Levine could be sentenced to life imprisonment. He refused to make any comments in court Thursday.
David Levine, who could receive a maximum of nine years in prison, denied playing any part in a cover-up. He said he does not remember signing the death certificate.
"This has been very disturbing, very disheartening," he said at Thursday's arraignment. "I didn't have anything to do with anything. She looked dead when I got there. I didn't notice anything being out of the ordinary."
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