Australia presses new charges against US surgeon
Australian prosecutors said Friday that they will pursue two charges of manslaughter against an American surgeon who has been acquitted of the manslaughter of a third patient.
Lawyers for Jayant Patel had hoped that further charges would be dropped after a Queensland state Supreme Court jury on Wednesday found the Indian-born U.S. citizen not guilty of the manslaughter of a 75-year-old patient at a state-run hospital in 2003.
But prosecutor Michael Byrne told the court on Friday that they will press forward with new charges, including the manslaughter of two other patients. Patel will also be prosecuted for lesser charges of causing grievous bodily harm to another patient and fraud stemming from his time as chief surgeon at Bundaberg Base Hospital from 2003 to 2005.
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 Bundaberg hospital 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in 2008 and he was extradited to Australia, where prosecutors accused him of misdiagnosing patients and using sloppy, out-of-date surgical techniques.
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 Mervyn Morris, James Edward Phillips and Gerry Kemps, and one count of grievous bodily harm for his treatment of Ian Rodney Vowles.
He was convicted of those charges in 2010 and sentenced to seven years in prison, but Australia's highest court threw out the convictions 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, which ended with Wednesday's acquittal, involved the death of Morris, who prosecutors alleged died after Patel wrongly removed part of his colon. Patel's defense argued that the operation was necessary.
Justice Glenn Martin said Friday that he was unwilling to set a date for the next trial on the grievous bodily harm charge until some outstanding legal issues had been resolved. He will examine progress on the case on April 19.
Patel's lawyer Ken Fleming said after Friday's court hearing that he would write to the state's Director of Public Prosecutions and Attorney-General asking for all charges to be withdrawn.
"We're disappointed," Fleming told reporters.
Patel is free on bail and was not required to attend court on Friday.