Australian court clears US doctor of patient death

AP News
Posted: Mar 13, 2013 4:07 AM

BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — An American surgeon previously convicted of the manslaughter of three patients in Australia was found not guilty of one of the deaths Wednesday after Australia's highest court ordered prosecutors to retry the case.

Jayant Patel, an Indian-born U.S. citizen, was sentenced to seven years in prison in 2010 after being convicted of the manslaughter of three patients and causing grievous bodily harm to another. The accusations related to his work as chief surgeon at a public hospital in Queensland state between 2003 and 2005.

Australia's highest court threw out the conviction last year after determining prosecutors had inappropriately changed the direction of their case late in the trial. Separate retrials were ordered for the charges related to each patient.

The first retrial involved the 2003 death of 75-year-old Mervyn Morris, who prosecutors said died after Patel wrongly removed part of his colon. Patel's defense argued that the operation was necessary to address Morris' rectal bleeding.

Patel's competency as a surgeon has been under scrutiny in both the U.S. and Australia for more than 25 years. When his patients and colleagues at the hospital in Bundaberg, Queensland, began to complain about his work, he left Australia and returned to the U.S. The FBI arrested him in Portland, Oregon, in 2008 and he was extradited to Australia.

An Australian government inquiry initially found that Patel may have directly contributed to 13 deaths at the Bundaberg hospital, but prosecutors narrowed the case to three counts of manslaughter for the deaths of Morris, James Edward Phillips and Gerry Kemps, and one count of grievous bodily harm for his treatment of Ian Rodney Vowles. Prosecutors argued in his original trial that Patel misdiagnosed patients and used sloppy, out-of-date surgical techniques.

Prosecutor David Meredith told the Queensland Supreme Court on Wednesday that the prosecution would proceed with the other trials, despite the acquittal on the first charge.

Outside court, Patel's lawyer Ken Fleming said his client believed "justice has been done."

"The evidence was there and the jury acted responsibly as well," Fleming said.