Sunday, September 09, 2007

Another belated footnote

Updated This one to this post which made reference to the case of Dr. Anna Pou, who a grand jury refused to indict on a charge of the mercy killings of nine patients trapped in a hospital in the wake of Katrina. It's from AP for Saturday:
The owners of a nursing home where 35 patients died after Hurricane Katrina were acquitted Friday of negligent homicide and cruelty charges for not evacuating the facility as the storm approached.

The jury took about four hours to acquit Sal and Mabel Mangano, the husband-and-wife owners of St. Rita's Nursing Home in St. Bernard Parish, just outside of New Orleans.

They had faced 35 counts of negligent homicide and 24 counts of cruelty to the elderly or infirm after the patients drowned - some in their beds - when the monster hurricane swept through the area. ...

The couple were the only people to face criminal charges stemming directly from Hurricane Katrina. More than 30 lawsuits have been filed against them by patients injured at the nursing home and the families of people who died there.
Prosecutors argued the home should have evacuated as the storm approached, but defense lawyers countered that the area had not flooded before and the Manganos thought riding out the storm was the safer choice for their residents. The fact that Gov. Kathleen Blanco testified there had been no evacuation order doubtless was also helpful to the defense.

I'm not familiar with the details of the case, but the fact that the acquittal came back so fast - and yes, four hours for a case like this is fast - indicates that the jury discovered itself to be pretty much of one mind right at the start and the prosecution couldn't have had much of a case.

I really have to wonder what the purpose of these prosecutions (of Dr. Pou and the Manganos; originally, two nurses were also charged) was. Distraction? A publicity-hungry prosecutor or two? Trying to keep the families of the dead, screaming for someone's blood, off officials' backs? What? Certainly the record - two dropped charges, one acquittal, one failure to even get an indictment - doesn't speak to calm discovery of actual criminal behavior on anyone's part. So what were they about?

Updated with another Wife-Generated Footnote: I'm told by the person across the table that three factors that may have gone into the decision to prosecute are that other nursing homes in the area did evacuate, the Manganos themselves left the city, leaving the staff to deal with whatever ensued, and if people in the community had not gone in to help, more might have died.

Still, that seems a thin reed on which to hang 35 charges of negligent homicide and, again, the rapid acquittal points to a weak case for the prosecution. This actually pushes me a bit more in the direction of suspecting the case was pursued by officials in order to get grieving families looking for closure off their backs.

(Closure? Yes, a type of it. Imagine you had a parent who died there. They died, drowned, pointlessly, helplessly, while you were somewhere else. A normal human reaction would be guilt - "I should have been there." But what if instead they died the same way but as the result of someone else's negligence? What if the failure wasn't yours but theirs? And what if they got punished for it? Can you understand why some people could find that more comforting or at least less troubling?

Yes, it's not rational. Emotions never are. It's not their nature or their job.)

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