NEW ORLEANS – The district attorney has dropped the case against two nurses in the deaths of four patients at a New Orleans hospital after Hurricane Katrina.
Nurses Lori Budo and Cheri Landry, along with a third woman, Dr. Anna Pou, were arrested last summer and booked with being principal to second-degree murder -- which carries a mandatory life prison sentence.
"We're very pleased. We thought this was how it would end," Landry's attorney John DiGiulio said Tuesday. "We're cautiously optimistic that when it's all over no one will be charged -- including Dr. Pou."
State Attorney General Charles Foti claimed they killed four people with a "lethal cocktail" at Memorial Medical Center during the chaotic conditions after the August 2005 storm. Lawyers for the three said they acted heroically, staying to treat patients rather than evacuating. No charges were ever filed.
Budo and Landry had been compelled to testify last month before a grand jury, under legal guidelines that precluded their testimony from being used against them. They waived their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Assistant District Attorney Michael Morales, in a filing with the Louisiana Supreme Court, had stated he would refuse second-degree murder charges, essentially dropping the case against Budo and Landry, once they testified.
Charges against Budo were refused on Friday, while those against Landry were refused June 22, according to state court records.
"It is important to understand that Lori Budo did not testify for or against anyone," said Budo's attorney Eddie Castaing. "Her only position was always to only tell the truth. We believe in the end that the grand jury will determine that no crimes were committed by anyone."
Although testimony before a grand jury is secret, DiGiulio said there is no reason to believe the nurses testified against Pou. The doctor remains free on $100,000 bond.
After Katrina broke levees on Aug. 29, 2005, flooding 80 percent of the city, the lower level of the 317-bed Memorial Medical Center was under 10 feet of water. Electric power throughout the city failed and temperatures inside the hospital topped 100 degrees.
At least 34 people died at the hospital, many succumbing to dehydration as they waited four days for rescuers to evacuate them.
The four victims Pou is accused of killing -- ranging in age from 61 to 90 years old -- would have survived except for the morphine and midazolam hydrochloride administered to them, Foti said. The drugs are central nervous system depressants.