Orange County dentist convicted of killing 3 with anesthesia overdoses is granted parole

An Orange County dentist convicted in 1984 of killing three patients was granted parole Wednesday, his attorney said.

Tony Protopappas was convicted of second-degree murder in 1984 and sentenced to 15 years to life in prison for killing two women and a girl by giving them the wrong dose of anesthesia at his Costa Mesa office.

The Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled in March that Protopappas should be freed unless prosecutors proved he was still a danger to society.

His attorney, Richard Pfeiffer, appealed a 2008 parole denial by arguing Protopappas poses no threat because he can no longer be a dentist.

"We expected this outcome, but he was a lot more emotional than I expected," Pfeiffer said. "He feels a lot of remorse for what he's done."

Protopappas had a successful, high-volume practice and got sloppy, he said, adding his client also had alcohol problems.

Protopappas showed the parole board a long list of self-help programs he has been involved with over the years.

"They concentrated on his work ethic in prison, which was exceptional," Pfeiffer said. "He works in the dental lab, and the dentists he works for all wrote letters saying they would hire him and that he's extremely talented."

Pfeiffer said he didn't know when his client would be released.

In four months, the parole board's decision will go to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has 30 days to decide whether to reverse it.

If the governor reverses the grant of parole, Pfeiffer says he'll ask a Superior Court judge to overturn the decision.