Forensics

Opinion of Dr. William George

            Dr. George was provided the medical records, laboratory reports of the nine Memorial patients, along with expert opinions by the former Attorney General.  He was asked to address the following:

1.            Is it likely that the levels of morphine and Versed found in purge fluid were the cause of death of any or all of these patients?

                Dr. George opined:

“All patients had been deceased for 10 or more days before their bodies were removed from the hospital.  There were no blood specimens available for toxicological analysis.  Purge fluid and certain other body tissues were submitted for testing.  However, it is generally well recognized that blood for determination of drug levels, should be obtained as quickly as possible following death.  Specifically, there is a clear consensus in the scientific literature that blood levels of morphine are greatly increased in post-mortem specimens with the passage of time.  In the case of these patients, who had been dead for many days, not only would drug redistribution have occurred but body decomposition would also have occurred.  Thus, post-mortem drug distribution changes would have resulted, rendering the quantitative measurement of morphine essentially useless with respect to its identification as a likely cause of death.  In the absence of reliable blood levels of drug, as well as dosage and time of administration, no objective, scientifically valid conclusion can be made concerning a casual relationship between morphine, Versed and the cause of death of any patient.”

“It is my opinion that the positive finding of morphine and Versed in these patients is evidence that these two drugs were in fact administered.  However, any attempt to assess a casual relationship between quantitative drug levels in purge fluids and the deaths is based on speculation rather than good science.”

 

2. Can the deaths of these patients be a result of other causes?

            The circumstances surrounding the tenuous health of these critically ill patients in an environment in which there were issues concerning the hurricane’s impact on electricity, air conditioning and the limited availability of medical care personnel are certainly significant confounding factors that must be considered in assessing the causes of death.

 

3. Can the presence of morphine and Versed in purge specimens, indicate intentions or events other than intentional homicide?

            Dr. George opined:

“Even if the levels of morphine and/or Versed were determined to be present in blood rather than purge fluids and at very high levels, the test results alone offer no scientific basis for claiming that the deaths were the result of homicide.”

 

4. Preliminary Conclusion by Dr. George

“It is therefore my professional opinion as a toxicologist that the levels of morphine and Versed in the extended post-mortem specimens obtained from the patients at Memorial Hospital are of little or no scientific value for determining the cause of death.  Additionally, the finding of drugs in post-mortem specimens obtained from these patients in such a hospital environment cannot be objectively interpreted as evidence of homicide in view of many other possible contributing factors. (Emphasis Added)”

 

Qualifications

            Dr. William George, P.h. D.:

  • Is a pharmacologist and toxicologist with more than 35 years of experience.
  • Has conducted research and published numerous articles in peer reviewed journals on a wide range of toxicological issues.
  • Served on the faculty at the Tulane University School of Medicine for more than 35 years.
  • As Director of Toxicology and Course Director, has opined for offerings in toxicology to medical students and graduate students with respect to basic principles of toxicology that are central to issues of concern in this case.
  • His work has been supported by extramural funds through governmental, industrial and/or private agencies.
  • Has been involved in the assessment of a number of drug-induced deaths both regionally and nationally.