“We’re talking about people that pretended maybe they were God and they made that decision,” said Louisiana Attorney General Charles Foti.
“This is not euthanasia. This is a homicide.”
The arrest warrant charged that the three gave lethal doses of morphine and another drug to patients at Memorial Medical Center, three days after the hurricane devastated the city on August 29th.
Two of the victims were in their 90’s and two were in their 60s, including a 380-pound man who was described as “alert” but paralysed.
Doctor Anna Pou, 50, and nurses Cheri Landry, 49, and Lori Budo, 43, were released on bail after being charged with four counts of second-degree murder.
The charges followed an investigation launched after rumours that medical staff had euthanized patients whom they thought would not survive the harsh conditions that followed Katrina, including lack of food, drinking water and air conditioning.
The Attorney General’s office investigated 13 nursing homes and five hospitals throughout the region but found credible evidence of mercy killings at only one.
Four hospital administrators at Memorial Medical Center heard of plans to give patients lethal doses, although none of the key witnesses said they knew who made the decision, the affidavit said.
During a meeting about the evacuation plan, one hospital administrator who has not been charged told employees they did not expect to evacuate nine critically ill patients.
She also said the plan was they “were not going to leave any living patients behind.”
Dr Pou later told a hospital worker that many of the patients on the seventh floor “were probably not going to survive” and that “a decision had been made to administer lethal doses,” the affidavit said.
At least one patient was “aware, conscious and alert, but he weighed 380 pounds and was paralyzed. Pou decided that (he) could not be evacuated… and that they didn’t have a lot of time and that she needed to clear the floors as soon they could,” the affidavit said.
Court documents show the killings were not done in secret.
Budo was observed giving an injection to a 92-year-old man who said, “That burns,” as she administered a lethal dose of morphine.
The attorney general said more charges could be laid in the case, and that more victims might be found among the 45 bodies recovered from the hospital – 11 of which were already in the morgue when the storm hit.
He also said he believed the patients “would have lived through it” if Pou and the nurses had not taken “the law into their own hands.”
But Pou’s lawyer said the attorney general was more interested in staging a “media event” for political gain than in pursing justice.
“It’s a year later and the blame game is now shifting to a doctor and two nurses and maybe others,” Rick Simmons said. “They’re victims of the storm not victims of homicide… There’s no criminal misconduct.”
Simmons said Pou – who was arrested in her hospital scrubs – would plead not guilty to the charges.
Most of New Orleans was flooded by Hurricane Katrina, which killed as many as 1,500 people across the Gulf Coast. Much of the city was without power, water or transportation.
Emergency generators in the city’s hospitals quickly ran out of fuel and hospital staff used flashlights to tend to patients in the sweltering heat and stench of backed-up sewage.
The temperature inside Memorial Medical Center rose to almost 38 degrees Celsius as patients waited four days to be evacuated. At least 34 patients died at the hospital during that time.
Outside, the city descended into chaos and evacuations were stymied by reports of snipers shooting at medical helicopters.