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Siblings defend doctor accused in hospital deaths

From Drew Griffin and Kathleen Johnston
From left, Dr. Anna Pou, nurse Lori L. Budo and nurse Cheri Landry are accused of killing four patients.


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New Orleans (Louisiana)

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (CNN) -- The siblings of a doctor accused in an affidavit of murdering four patients in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina have come publicly to her defense.

Peggy Perino and Michael Pou told CNN in an exclusive interview that their sister, Dr. Anna Pou, was a committed physician who stayed on the job despite pleas from her family to evacuate during last year's storm when levees broke and left much of New Orleans flooded.

"She said, 'There's just bedlam around here. I can't leave,' " Perino recalled her sister as saying in a cell phone call from inside Memorial Medical Center. "That was her. If you knew her, that's the way she was."

Anna Pou and nurses Lori L. Budo and Cheri Landry were arrested Monday and booked. They are accused of injecting four patients with a "lethal cocktail" of drugs on September 1, the day before Memorial Medical Center was evacuated, said Louisiana Attorney General Charles C. Foti.

"This is not euthanasia," Foti said. "This is homicide." (Watch how a mercy killing probe led to murder charges -- 1:41)

Although no formal charges have been filed, the allegations have been referred to the Orleans Parish district attorney's office for prosecution.

Pou's attorney Rick Simmons issued a statement this week saying his client "is innocent of the charges, and we intend to vigorously contest them."

Landry's attorney, John Di Giulio, said his client plans to enter a not guilty plea and contest the charges against her.

Budo's attorney, Edward J Castaing, Jr, said that "no formal charges have been brought against her and she is entitled to the presumption of innocence."

Killers or heroes?

He added, "All of her efforts during the aftermath and nightmare of hurricane Katrina were solely intended to comfort and save patients who had been abandoned by rescue authorities. Those who were not there should not stand in judgment."

Pou's brother and sister said they cannot believe the three are being accused of murder when they say they should be called heroes instead.

"They, along with many other doctors and nurses, worked through it," Michael Pou said. "And to have this after the fact is just unbelievable from people, who in my biased opinion, have no idea what was going on -- the attorney general in particular."

After the crisis passed, their sister said little about what happened inside the hospital, the two said.

Perino said she later learned from a nurse that some inside the hospital considered her sister a hero.

"I don't remember the nurse's name, but she said, 'I just want to tell you, Dr. Pou was ... the most incredible person' she had ever seen," Perino said. "That if it weren't for her, nobody would have made it out.

"That she took complete control of the whole situation. She gave orders."

Ultimately, when Dr. Pou tells what happened, she will be considered a hero, her brother and sister said they believed.

10-month investigation

The allegations against Pou, Budo and Landry came about 10 months after the investigation into the deaths was launched.

Tests found that a lethal amount of morphine had been administered to the four patients, whose ages were given as 62, 66, 89 and 90, according to the affidavit. They were patients at Lakeside, an acute-care facility inside Memorial Medical Center.

The "lethal cocktail" consisted of morphine and midazolam hydrochloride, known by its brand name Versed, Foti said. Both drugs are central nervous system depressants.

None of the patients had been prescribed the drugs by their caregivers and -- prior to the injections -- none of the accused had treated the four, Foti said.

Since being booked on four counts of being a principal to second-degree murder, Pou -- who was released on $100,000 bond -- has spent her days calling patients and telling them that for the time being she cannot be their doctor, Perino said.

"She's very attached to all of her patients," Perino said. "They all have her cell phone numbers because she feels they need to be able to reach her at any given time."

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