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Doctor Is Acquitted in 5 Patients' Deaths

November 23, 2002|From Associated Press

FARMINGTON, Utah — A psychiatrist was found not guilty Friday of manslaughter and negligent homicide in the deaths of five ailing, elderly patients.

It took jurors just 90 minutes to acquit Robert Weitzel, who prosecutors alleged deliberately weakened the patients before they were killed with morphine overdoses.

Weitzel maintained he was providing comfort care to terminally ill patients. Defense witnesses testified his treatment was within standard medical practices.

"I am very glad this trial is finally over and that compassionate, end-of-life care has been vindicated," Weitzel said in a statement. "I'm also terribly saddened by the unnecessary suffering that my patients' families were put through."

Weitzel was found guilty in an earlier trial, but a judge threw out the conviction because prosecutors failed to disclose an expert witness who thought Weitzel did nothing criminally wrong.

In closing arguments Friday, Davis County Atty. Mel Wilson complained the defense had turned the case into a forum on end-of-life care.

"It was the defendant who brought them to the dying condition," he said, adding that the case was about "an attitude of arrogance ... [and] indifference, a betrayal of trust."

Expert witnesses for both sides offered contradictory testimony about how much morphine was too much for frail, elderly patients.

The five, ages 72 to 90, all had dementia, and four had serious physical ailments, according to testimony. "These people were at the end of their lives," Weitzel's trial attorney Walter Bugden Jr. said.

Weitzel pleaded guilty last year to prescription fraud for keeping some of the morphine and Demerol he prescribed to two patients.

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