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Coroner: Katrina hospital deaths going to grand jury

By Kathleen Johnston and Drew Griffin
CNN
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NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (CNN) -- A New Orleans grand jury will decide if a doctor and two nurses intentionally killed patients with injections before the hospital was evacuated in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Orleans Parish coroner Frank Minyard said Tuesday.

The Orleans Parish district attorney's office would not officially confirm the report, saying only that the matter is still being investigated.

"We won't confirm it, but I'm not going to deny it either," Assistant District Attorney George Bourgeois said.

Minyard offered no details and refused to comment on whether he had completed his review of the four patients who died at New Orleans' Memorial Medical Center in September.

Orleans Parish District Attorney Eddie Jordan has said he was waiting for Minyard's report before deciding whether to present the case to the grand jury.

Dr. Anna Pou and nurses Cheryl Landry and Lori Budo were arrested in July after a 10-month investigation into the matter. Louisiana Attorney General Charles C. Foti charged the trio with second-degree murder.

The investigation revealed that the four patients -- ages 62, 66, 89 and 90 -- were given a "lethal cocktail" of morphine and midazolam hydrochloride, both central nervous system depressants, Foti said.

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

Foti began his investigation September 14, two weeks after the hospital was evacuated. Officials at Lifecare, an acute-care facility where the four patients were being treated, sparked the investigation when they reported suspicious deaths, he said.

"This was not euthanasia," Foti said at a July news conference. "This was homicide."

Pou, Landry and Budo have denied the charges, and their attorneys have said they acted heroically, staying to treat patients rather than evacuate.

Under Louisiana law, Foti can arrest and charge individuals, but the local district attorney decides whether to try the case.

The district attorney has refused to discuss the case publicly, saying only that he asked Minyard to review the autopsy findings.

Dr. Bryant King, a contract physician at the hospital, told CNN in October that he was approached by a doctor who told him a hospital administrator had suggested euthanizing patients to put them "out of their misery."

King said he objected, but a third doctor agreed to do it. King said he later saw a doctor with a handful of syringes, but he never witnessed any wrongdoing.

Sources have told CNN that the killings were allegedly carried out to hasten evacuation as medical equipment failed, temperatures soared, food dwindled and looters converged on nearby buildings. Foti has refused to discuss a possible motive.

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From left, Dr. Anna Pou, nurse Lori Budo and nurse Cheryl Landry are accused of second-degree murder in the deaths.

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