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Doctor Negligent of Dozing During Ill-Fated Surgery

October 23, 1996| From Associated Press

DENVER — An anesthesiologist accused of dozing during ill-fated surgery on an 8-year-old boy was convicted of negligence Tuesday, but a mistrial was declared on the more serious charge of reckless manslaughter.

Dr. Joseph Verbrugge already lost his medical license and paid a civil settlement to the parents of Richard Leonard, who died July 8, 1993, at St. Joseph's Hospital during a routine ear operation.

Verbrugge will be sentenced Nov. 12 on the misdemeanor medical negligence count. Prosecutors will decide then whether to retry him for the felony.

The jury deliberated a total of 25 hours over four days before announcing it could not reach a verdict on the manslaughter charge. Juror Tom Pool said they had trouble agreeing on "the definition of criminal."

The boy's father, Jay Leonard, said he sympathized with the jury.

"I think this is a very difficult case to try," he said. "I've been with this case 3 1/2 years and I was getting confused."

Prosecutor Diane Balkin said she could not fault the jury either, given the voluminous and complicated medical testimony.

Verbrugge left court without commenting to reporters.

The Colorado Board of Medical Examiners revoked Verbrugge's license in 1994 after an administrative law judge ruled the doctor fell asleep and failed to notice the boy's distress. The operating room nurses testified during the trial that Verbrugge nodded off.

Verbrugge admitted he was confronted about sleeping during other surgeries, but said he was awake during the boy's operation.

Verbrugge's lawyers argued the boy may have died because of a rare genetic disease that made him vulnerable to anesthesia.

Whatever the cause, the boy's heart rate and temperature soared, and the carbon dioxide level in his blood was dangerously high, Verbrugge testified.

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