Saturday, September 08, 2007

St. Rita's Nursing Home Owners Acquitted

After a trial that saw prosecutors put on more than 40 witnesses, including Gov. Kathleen Blanco, a jury took four hours to acquit the owners of St. Rita's Nursing Home of 35 counts of negligent homicide and 24 counts of cruelty to the elderly or infirm when Hurricane Katrina came ashore and the entire area was flooded out.
The owners of a nursing home where 35 patients died after Hurricane Katrina were acquitted Friday of negligent homicide and cruelty charges for not evacuating the facility as the storm approached.

The jury took about four hours to acquit Sal and Mabel Mangano, the husband-and-wife owners of St. Rita's Nursing Home in St. Bernard Parish, just outside of New Orleans.

"I can't tell you how good this feels, how good those people are," Mabel Mangano said outside the courthouse in St. Francisville, the town about 112 miles northwest of New Orleans where the trial was moved. "This has been a very rough road."

They had faced 35 counts of negligent homicide and 24 counts of cruelty to the elderly or infirm after the patients drowned - some in their beds - when the monster hurricane swept through the area in 2005.
The families of the victims are predictably upset over the failure to get a guilty verdict. What I find interesting is that Blanco, who testified for the prosecution, said that the decision to evacuate areas was left up to local officials. The officials in St. Bernard Parish did not call for a mandatory evacuation.

I believe that the jury took that information, combined with the fact that the defendants had decided to shelter in place, as critical pieces of evidence when deciding not guilty. Had the Governor or local officials made the mandatory evacuation call, it is quite possible that those patients may have survived the storm instead of drowned as the flood waters rose. The defense essentially shifted the blame for the deaths on the government's failure to call for evacuations and failures to maintain levees:
In their closing arguments, defense attorneys hammered away at their primary theme: that the government, not the Manganos, is to blame for the St. Rita's deaths due to shoddy levees and for not issuing a formal evacuation order.

"If they had built the levees the way they had promised 40 years ago after Hurricane Betsy, not a single person would have drowned at St. Rita's or in St. Bernard Parish,'' said Reed, who represents Sal Mangano. "It's as simple as that."

Reed made an impassioned plea to the jury to spare the couple from being the only two people held accountable for the litany of mistakes that turned the hurricane into what some have called the worst man-made disaster in the country's history.

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