Criminal Justice

35 La. Deaths: Nursing Home Owners Not Guilty

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In a case that has focused criticism on the prosecution, two 60-something owners of St. Rita’s nursing home in Louisiana have been acquitted of 35 charges of negligent homicide. Their 35 patients died after Sal and Mabel Mangano decided not to evacuate before Hurricane Katrina.

They two were found not guilty Friday, after four hours of deliberation, under a Louisiana statute requiring a “gross deviation below the standard of care expected to be maintained by a reasonably careful person,” reports the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

Said juror Kim Maxwell, a 46-year-old secretary: “A lot of mistakes were made, but they shouldn’t be blamed on just two people.”

As discussed in an earlier ABAJournal.com post, the Manganos said they thought the stress of an evacuation was more dangerous than the storm. However, after levees were breached, “rapidly rising water … turned the single-story building into a tomb within 20 minutes,” the newspaper writes. “The Manganos and their staff managed to save 24 of the 59 residents, floating many of them out windows on mattresses wrapped in plastic liners.”

They still face more than 30 wrongful-death suits.

Early on, the Manganos reportedly agreed to be interviewed by investigators, but state Attorney General Charles Foti canceled and had them arrested. He has also been criticized for pursuing a criminal case that collapsed against a doctor and two nurses over hospital patient deaths during Katrina.

“The initial gut reaction of the jurors was that the Manganos had to be guilty because dozens of frail, elderly people under their care had died,” says Dane Ciolino, a professor at Loyola Law School in New Orleans. “But they were able to overcome that emotion through rational deliberation. For whatever reason, the attorney general wasn’t able to do that.”

A spokeswoman for Foti’s office didn’t return a phone call.

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