Lawyers trade jabs as meningitis outbreak murder trial opens

An attorney for a Massachusetts pharmacist charged in a deadly meningitis outbreak urged jurors Tuesday not to be swayed by their emotions while prosecutors argued the man's actions demonstrated a "shocking disregard" for human life.

Glenn Chin, the supervisory pharmacist at the now-closed New England Compounding Center, is on trial for second-degree murder and mail fraud under federal racketeering law for his role in the 2012 outbreak caused by tainted steroid injections that killed 76 people and sickened hundreds of others.

Assistant U.S. Attorney George Varghese told jurors Chin instructed staff to use expired ingredients, falsify documents and neglect cleaning to get the products out the door as quickly as possible. Chin also failed to properly sterilize the drugs, shipped products before they were tested and ignored findings of mold and bacteria in the clean rooms, Varghese said.

"Glenn Chin knew better," Varghese said during his opening statement. "He knew with what he was doing there was a reasonable likelihood that people were going to die, and he did it anyways."

Chin, who was wearing a dark suit and glasses, took notes and sometimes shook his head while Varghese spoke to the panel of 11 women and four men who will hear the case, which is expected to last several weeks.

Chin's attorneys are hoping to place the blame on the co-founder of the compounding pharmacy. Unlike regular drugstores, compounding pharmacies custom-mix medications and supply them directly to hospitals and doctors.

Barry Cadden was sentenced in June to nine years in prison after being acquitted of second-degree murder charges but convicted on conspiracy and fraud charges.

Defense Attorney Stephen Weymouth said there is no evidence Chin caused the injections to become contaminated. Before the outbreak, Chin had a long track record of safely producing compounded drugs, Weymouth said.

Cadden was the one calling the shots, and Chin couldn't stand up to him, said Weymouth, who sought to portray Cadden as a demanding boss who treated his employees poorly and was only interested in profits.

"He treated them badly, and he pushed them to work to the max, and he didn't care if corners had to be cut to do that," Weymouth said. "Those weren't decisions made by Glenn Chin. They were decisions made by Barry Cadden."

Before the defense gave its opening statement, Chin's attorneys unsuccessfully pressed the judge to declare a mistrial due to some of Varghese's comments, including a mention of how many people attended the funeral for one of the meningitis victims.

The outbreak of fungal meningitis and other infections was traced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to contaminated injections of medical steroids, given mostly to people with back pain.

More than 700 people in 20 states were sickened in what's considered the worst public health crisis in recent U.S. history. The CDC put the death toll at 64 in 2013. Federal officials identified additional victims in their investigation, raising the total number of deaths to 76.

Chin is charged in the deaths of 25 people in Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.

Varghese, the assistant U.S. attorney, slowly read the names of those victims to the jurors while their pictures flashed across a television screen. While Chin did not intend to kill them, he knew there was a reasonable likelihood the drugs could be deadly if they were not sterile, Varghese said.

"He knew he had a job to do, which was to make these drugs sterile, and he just didn't care enough to do it," Varghese said.

But Chin's attorney urged jurors not to let their sympathy for the victims get in the way of the facts in the case.

"The government has no evidence that will ever be able to convince you beyond a reasonable doubt that Glen Chin murdered 25 people," Weymouth said.


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