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Jury Deliberations To Begin In Trial Of Doctor Charged With Murder For Drug Overdose Of Three Patients

courtesy image
courtesy image

Jury deliberations are set to begin today in the trial of a doctor charged with murder for the drug overdose deaths of three patients.

Hsiu-Ying “Lisa” Tseng — who worked at a clinic in Rowland Heights — is charged with three counts of second-degree murder in the deaths of Vu Nguyen, 29, of Lake Forest, Steven Ogle, 25, of Palm Desert, and Joseph Rovero III, a 21-year-old Arizona State University student from San Ramon, between March and December 2009.

The Los Angeles Superior Court jury may also consider the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter in each of the deaths.

Tseng, 45, is also facing 20 counts of unlawfully prescribing controlled substances and one count of fraudulently prescribing a controlled substance.

A prosecutor told jurors Friday Tseng faked medical records to cover up her misdeeds. The defense said she could have practiced medicine better but was not a murderer.

“Numbers do not equal proof,” defense attorney Tracy Green said of the two-dozen counts against Tseng. “I don’t think it adds up to proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”

In her final remarks to the jury, Green urged jurors to acquit her client of all but one of the charges. She conceded that the panel “can check guilty” on the remaining count of fraudulently prescribing a controlled substance that was purportedly written for a patient’s husband.

Green accused investigators of a “rush to judgment” and of singling Tseng out and failing to interview other doctors who may have treated the patients, who she said took “far in excess” of the dosages prescribed by Tseng.

The defense attorney said there was “no evidence” that her client was simply handing prescriptions to patients who asked for them, and said the doctor was trying to taper down the medication of some patients.

“She is trusting the patient .. in hindsight too much,” Green told jurors of her client, whom she had earlier described to jurors as “nerdy” and “not street smart.”

The defense attorney — who said her client had “worked her whole life for a medical degree” — told jurors that Tseng didn’t do things the way the prosecution’s experts would have.

Green acknowledged that some of the charts of Tseng’s patients were “skimpy” on details about her visits with them.

“What she did do is that she could have practiced better,” Green said, telling jurors that the mother of two was “working in the trenches of a clinic, probably working too much.”

“Is it so bad as to be criminal?” she asked of her client’s actions, arguing that Tseng was acting in good faith. “She wasn’t so heartless or careless that she didn’t care what happened …”

Green noted that her client stopped practicing at the clinic in November 2011 and that “there’s a likelihood that she’d never be a doctor” again.

In his rebuttal argument, Deputy District Attorney John Niedermann acknowledged that “this isn’t your typical murder case” and “not your typical murder suspect.”

Niedermann said the case involves the “prescribing of high levels of opiates” without medical justification to patients who did not need them even after learning some had overdosed on the substances for which she had provided them prescriptions.

“What you have is an individual who learns through experience … that people can overdose and die,” Niedermann said, telling jurors that she had first-hand knowledge that something was wrong with her prescribing patterns.

“During all this time, it’s full bore with prescribing … It’s conscious disregard. It’s appreciation of the risk,” the prosecutor said.

“She is warned again and again and again. They’re dying, they’re dying, they’re dying … She understands what she’s doing, the harm of it and she does it anyway.”

Niedermann said Tseng had received calls from coroner’s officials about deaths of some of the patients she had seen, along with fielding calls from family members who had told her not to prescribe to or see their loved ones.

The prosecutor called Tseng’s medical records “fake,” arguing that they were “manufactured by the defendant at a later date.”

“These aren’t skimpy charts. They’re empty charts,” Niedermann said.

The prosecutor said Tseng “accepts no personal responsibility for her actions in this case,” while noting that she was “willing to fall on one felony count.”

Tseng agreed in February 2012 to surrender her license to practice, just before being taken into custody in connection with the criminal charges. She has been behind bars in lieu of $3 million bail since her March 1, 2012, arrest.

 

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