The trial of a second defendant has brought the notorious case of the New England Compounding Center in Framingham back to federal court in Boston.
With it comes nightmarish stories of people who went to pain clinics for routine steroid injections but were also injected with fungal meningitis. At least 64 people died and more than 700 people fell sick in the 2012 nationwide outbreak.
Opening statements began Tuesday in the trial of Glenn Chin, a former pharmacist at the now-closed NECC who faces charges of second-degree murder and mail fraud under federal racketeering law.
Accused Of 'A Shocking Disregard For Human Life'
Nowadays, prosecutors begin opening statements by telling jurors a story. This one was about Judge Edward Lovelace, of Kentucky.
The prosecutor called him "Judge Eddie." He was a man with a back problem. After going to get a steroid shot from a pain clinic in September 2012, he couldn't move his legs. He had trouble swallowing. He was rushed to the hospital, diagnosed with a stroke and died.
His steroid injection came from the New England Compounding Center.
"His death was a tragedy," Assistant U.S. Attorney George Varghese told the jury in Boston. "But it was not an accident. Judge Eddie was killed by that man."
That man the jurors turned to look at was Chin, a mild-faced 49-year-old in glasses.
"He didn't intentionally kill Judge Eddie," Varghese continued. "But he engaged in conduct so extremely dangerous and risky there was a strong probability Judge Eddie would die — and he did."
The prosecutor tolled the names of 25 victims as one by one their faces appeared on a screen.
There was mold in those steroid injections, and mold is deadly, Varghese explained. It entered the spinal cord and ate blood vessels at the base of the brain, he said.
"There's no way for fungus to get into your brain unless someone puts it there," Varghese told the jurors.
The implication was clear. Glenn Chin put it there by showing "a shocking disregard for human life, a shocking disregard."
As the chief pharmacist, Chin had the responsibility of making sure the drugs that were made at NECC and shipped to pain clinics, doctors and hospitals were sterile, the government argued.
But Chin ran a so-called "clean room" that was filthy with mold and bacteria, the prosecutor said. He's accused of improperly sterilizing drugs, improperly testing them, as well as falsifying and fabricating clean room certifications. He even told his staff to stop cleaning the "clean room," Varghese claimed.
In 2012, NECC sent out over 17,000 vials of injectable steroids that investigators later determined to be contaminated.
The prosecutor called Chin's actions murder in the second-degree.
'It's Not Murder,' Defense Says
After the jurors left the room, the defense voiced outrage over the prosecutor's definition of second-degree murder. Defense attorney Robert Sheketoff called for a mistrial.
Then, with the jurors back in their seats, fellow defense attorney Stephen Weymouth launched into a blistering opening statement.
"Chin didn't do anything to kill those people, and the government has no evidence he did," Weymouth told the jurors, calling Varghese's statements on the law "balderdash."
"The government cannot prove how the product was contaminated," Weymouth continued. "And if they can't prove that, you can't convict."
Barry Cadden, the former president of the NECC, has already been convicted on multiple counts of racketeering and fraud and sent to prison for nine years.
In this trial, the prosecution presents Cadden and Chin as partners in crime. But Weymouth told the jurors Chin was "not anything other than a trained employee": Cadden was the king, the company was his baby, and he didn't partner up with anyone. Thus, there's no criminal enterprise.
Most important to the defense, its lawyer acknowledged to the jurors, are those 25 alleged acts of second-degree murder. Guilty verdicts on those might well mean life in prison for Chin.
"Involuntary manslaughter," Weymouth said. "That's what this case is at worst. It's not murder."
Beating the murder charges, like Cadden managed to do just barely, is the defense's main objective.
This segment aired on September 20, 2017.
- Mass. Pharmacist Put Speed Over Safety Before Meningitis Outbreak, Prosecutor Says
- Most Jurors Say They Wanted To Find Cadden Guilty Of Murder. But They Submitted 'Not Guilty' Verdicts
- Cadden Sentenced To 9 Years In Meningitis Case As Questions Around Verdict Slip Swirl
- 2012 Meningitis Outbreak And Aftermath