The Very Troubling Conviction
of Dr. Robert Weitzel
Robert Weitzel, M.D., a board certified psychiatrist, was taking care of
geriatric psychiatric patients at Davis Hospital in the winter of 1995-96, when
quite a few very demented and highly agitated patients were admitted, basically
having been ejected from their nursing homes because of their dangerous and
Weitzel tried with psychiatric medications to get five of these patients'
agitated, psychotic, affectively labile symptoms under control. During
this attempt four of the patients, average age 86, coincidentally became seriously (and
acutely) medically ill, with such problems as GI bleed, sepsis, CVA, and renal
failure. The families of the four (mentally incompetent)
patients were advised of this, and offered 1) full ICU workup and treatment, or
2) withdrawal of medical interventions, keeping the patients comfortable while
nature took its course.
The families chose to order withdrawal of interventions, and signed advance
directives to that effect.
The four patients had almost all previous treatments stopped, and were instead
given moderate doses of opiates, and nursing "comfort care".
NONE died immediately on being given opiates, but rather they died later from
their underlying pathology. There was no intent to kill; and no patient
WAS killed. This was standard medical care, avoiding prolonging death,
seen every day in every hospital in this country.
The one other patient died (age 91) soon after admission, evidently with a
pneumonia and heart disease that preceded any care by Dr. Weitzel. She was
given morphine for clearly evident severe pain, but there was no connection between that
and time of death, much later.
Dr. Weitzel was charged by a county prosecutor, years later, with five counts of
first degree murder, despite the prosecutor's knowledge that the care was not
Dr. Weitzel was convicted by a lay jury of lesser charges of manslaughter and
negligent homicide, and then sentenced to up to 15 years in prison.
After the conviction it was discovered that the prosecution's "star
witness", Brad Hare, had recommended another doctor, Perry Fine, MD, as a better
expert in this field. (Hare is a very opiophobic anesthesiologist; Fine is
one of the top experts in the country on end-of-life care, and is a bioethicist
and anesthesiologist). The state sought out Fine's advice and listed him
as a prosecution witness, but after a
thorough review of the records, he told them they should not prosecute, for the
care was standard and no
crime had been committed.
Rather than reconsider their case, the
prosecutors went ahead with their (now-discredited) star witness, Hare, and got Dr.
Weitzel (temporarily) convicted, never telling the defense of the exculpatory
and impeaching witness. However, when this was discovered, a
Motion for New Trial was filed and granted, and after six months and a day in
prison Dr. Weitzel was released.
Since then he has been fighting
attempts by the state, their backs against the wall, to unethically and unjustly
convict him on something, anything, to deflect attention from their wrongdoing.
On November 22, 2002, the jury found Dr. Weitzel
"NOT GUILTY" on all counts