For his part, Keller assigned most of the blame to his attorney, Gerald Goldstein: He didn't attack the prosecution witnesses; he delivered a far less impressive summation than his reputation might have warranted; he wasn't familiar enough with the facts to effectively counter the prosecution's case. "If I had defended myself, I would have done a lot better," Keller said. "I couldn't have done worse."
Goldstein would later take strong exception to the notion that he hadn't done his homework or otherwise earned his fee (The total bills for all five defense lawyers, plus expenses, ran to $500,000--Keller's life savings plus a defense fund). The real problem, Goldstein said, was that the jury "never got on board. They were watching a different movie." Then there was the near insurmountable problem of having to explain the Digitron machine. "Two weeks is not enough time to convince a south Texas jury that you can cure cancer at a distance with a Polaroid photograph."
Keller's sentencing was scheduled for last Thursday, Dec. 12. He was looking at 55 years--five years apiece on each of 11 counts--a fact that appalled former patients such as Olga Quijano. The people who went to St. Jude's weren't duped, she said. They'd had conventional therapy and it hadn't worked. They went to Keller of their own free will. "We have freedom of choice in abortion," said Quijano, whose own therapy had been cut off by Keller's arrest. "Why can't we have freedom of choice in cancer therapy, too?"
"Choice is only half the story," answered quackbuster William Jarvis a few weeks after the trial. "What about accountability? Practicing medicine is not a right. It's a privilege. To allow incompetent or untrustworthy people to practice medicine would be irresponsible. We don't do it with plumbers or auto mechanics or anybody else. Why should we do it with health care?"
It was a reasonable question, and perhaps the most eloquent response came from another of Keller's former patients, Selma Meyers, one morning at a breakfast table in the deserted lobby of McAllen's Compri Hotel.
Meyers is a regal-looking woman of 68 with smooth, pink skin, a sharp aquiline nose and a slow, dignified way of moving her head that is reminiscent either of a great stage actress or someone who is in very deep pain.
"Five years ago," she said, "I came down with inoperable breast cancer." Her doctor had scheduled her for a double mastectomy at Kaiser, Woodland Hills only to change her mind at the last minute. She'd taken Meyers' case to two different cancer review panels, and they both agreed: The cancer had metastasized; surgery wouldn't help. Let the woman die in peace.
Having nothing to lose, Meyers went St. Jude's in Tijuana. After three weeks' treatment, the tumor disappeared completely and stayed in remission for four years. Then, two years ago, the cancer came back on the other side: a purple, bleeding tumor, seeping pus. It was more difficult this time, but Keller slowly shrunk that one till it disappeared as well. But last February, for the third time, a tumor came back. Meyers called his clinic to make arrangements for additional treatment, but it was too late. Four thugs, Olga Quijano told her, had just dragged Keller out the door.
All the time Meyers and I were talking, she had been holding herself perfectly still. Suddenly she stiffened--head erect, eyes closed. It was then that I noticed a small, red stain spreading on her blouse above her left breast.
Meyers' husband, Sam, was sitting with us. "This is too important to be modest about," he told her.
Slowly, Selma unbuttoned the top of her blouse and carefully pulled the corner back. There on the chest wall above her left breast was a big red and yellow, cracked and pus-encrusted mass. The technical name was infiltrating intraductal carcinoma--but it looked as though someone had just taken a pound of raw hamburger, made a crude ball and pressed it against her chest. Even as I stared, a trickle of blood began seeping from a fissure in the top and running down the side.
As the tears welled up in her eyes, Selma Meyers gingerly covered the tumor with a napkin and rebuttoned her blouse. There was nothing the doctors could do, she said. "We've been told we are dying. Jimmy is our only hope."