The case of the head pharmacist and co-owner of the New England Compounding Center, blamed for a nationwide outbreak of fungal meningitis that killed 64 people and sickened over 700 more, has gone to the federal jury.
Barry Cadden is charged with 96 criminal counts, including fraud, racketeering and 25 acts of second-degree murder.
“Twenty five people were stolen from this earth,” prosecutor Amanda Strachan told the jurors at the beginning of her closing argument Thursday. “It was entirely preventable. It happened because Barry Cadden decided to put profit before patients.”
The deaths of each of those 25 people, whose names were invoked as their photos were summoned on the screen of court television monitors, were described as second-degree murders. They form underlying acts of racketeering. If convicted, Cadden could go to prison for the rest of his life.
“He knew if those drugs were contaminated people would die” — he made them anyway, Strachan told the jurors at the end of nine weeks of testimony. She described the now-defunct compounding center in Framingham as “a fungal zoo” with gross-contamination and the compounding of drugs that constituted “wanton disregard for the lives of patients.”
In 2012, NECC sent out nearly 18,000 vials of injectable steroids contaminated with mold to 23 states triggering a national crisis.
“The evidence shows these people are not murder victims and Barry Cadden did not murder any of those people,” Cadden’s attorney Bruce Singal told the jurors. "The government has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt he knew at the time the drugs [left the compounding center] that people injected with this drug would be killed."
The government has to prove intent, the defense claims.
The government's pursuit of second-degree murder counts, under the charge of racketeering, has struck defense attorneys as extraordinarily ambitious. Proving second-degree murder requires a higher standard than proving the lesser crime of manslaughter.
But the lesser crime of manslaughter does not meet the minimum standard for charging racketeering. Second-degree murder does. So including second-degree murder as an underlying acts gives the federal prosecutor the ability to seek a much harsher punishment.
“The mystery of how the contamination was caused remains unsolved as we sit here today,” Singal told the jury. “And without solving it there’s no way you can convict Barry Cadden of second-degree murder.”
In the prosecution’s rebuttal, George Varghese showed the victims photos, one by one, ending with “Mr. Cadden is guilty of murder. He’s guilty of murder.”
Cadden himself never looked at the jurors, the prosecution or even his own defense team, but focused on a wall on the other side of the courtroom.