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Jury Clears Nursing Home Owners In Post-Katrina Deaths
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
September 7, 2007

ST. FRANCISVILLE, LOUISIANA--After a three-week trial, a jury took just four hours in deliberation late Friday to acquit the owners of St. Rita's Nursing Home of negligent homicide and cruelty charges related to the deaths of 35 residents who perished in the days after Hurricane Katrina.

Sal and Mabel Mangano had been accused of failing to fully evacuate the facility as the hurricane approached in late August 2005. Several residents ended up drowning while sitting in their wheelchairs or laying in their beds.

The couple's defense attorneys argued that the couple could not have predicted how dangerous the storm would be, nor that the levees surrounding St. Bernard Parish, where St. Rita's is located, would crumble or be "topped" by storm water.

The Manganos were the only facility owners charged with crimes related to nursing home residents' deaths, even though residents of other facilities also perished. In fact, the operators of one nursing home where 22 residents died have not yet faced charges. Some jurors told reporters after their verdict this fact persuaded them to acquit the couple.

Jurors also said they believed there were many people to blame for the deaths, including federal, state and local officials in St. Bernard Parish, who failed to order an evacuation of the area.

"There were a lot of mistakes made, and it should have been a lot of people answering for it," juror Kim Maxwell told the Associated Press. "So why just these two people?"

Louisiana Attorney General Charles Foti filed charges against the Manganos just a few days after the hurricane slammed into the Gulf Coast.

At one point, Foti's office was investigating six hospitals and 13 nursing homes where a total of at least 140 patients died, either from drowning, a lack of adequate power to operate needed medical equipment, a lack of needed medication, or other causes.

Rumors that some of the 34 patients who died at Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans were given lethal doses of medication to speed up their deaths led Foti's office to arrest one doctor and three nurses. The charges against the nurses were later dropped and a grand jury refused to indict the doctor.

A majority of those who died during or after the storm were seniors or people with physical or mental disabilities. Their deaths have prompted efforts across the country to prepare for the orderly evacuation or shelter of people with "special needs" during natural and man-made disasters.

"Manganos not guilty in St. Rita's nursing home case" (Times-Picayune)
"Owners of La. Nursing Home Are Acquitted" (Associated Press via ABC News)
"People With Disabilities Among Hardest Hit By Hurricanes Katrina & Rita" (Inclusion Daily Express Archives)

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