FARMINGTON, Utah (AP) — A psychiatrist accused of killing five elderly patients by prescribing fatal doses of morphine was convicted Monday of manslaughter and negligent homicide.
Robert Weitzel, 44, was found guilty of two counts of manslaughter and three counts of negligent homicide. Sentencing was set for Aug. 17, with Weitzel facing two to 45 years in prison.
Weitzel’s attorneys argued that the patients were terminally ill and he was merely trying to ease their pain in their final moments.
Davis County Attorney Mel Wilson told the jury that Weitzel had a definite `”pattern of euthanasia,'” which is illegal in Utah, in dealing with five patients who died in a 16-day period beginning in December 1995.
He said the doctor “blasted” four of the five patients with anti-psychotic drugs until they seemed to be near death, then administered lethal doses of morphine.
“You have to use your common sense and you have to look at these patterns of conduct this doctor has engaged in,” Wilson told the jurors.
The one exception to Weitzel’s pattern of euthanasia was Ellen Anderson, 91, the first to die, whom Weitzel gave morphine as soon as she was admitted to the Geriatric-Psychiatric Unit at the Davis Hospital and Medical Center in Layton.
Wilson said Weitzel caused her death through “depraved indifference.”
Defense attorney Peter Stirba said there was no reason to believe Weitzel did anything but fulfill his ethical obligation to his dying patients.
“There’s reasonable doubt written all over this case,” Stirba said. “It’s not about murder, it’s not about manslaughter, it’s not about negligent homicide. It’s about one thing: End of life care.”
He said medical records showed Weitzel did nothing wrong.
Weitzel prescribed morphine only after consulting with the patients’ families, Stirba said, and acted in good faith to relieve the patients’ pain, both of which allow for immunity from criminal liability.
“All the families were on board with me — understanding what was going on and wanting their loved ones to be comfortable,” Weitzel testified last week.
Weitzel, whose medical license has been suspended, also faces federal charges in Utah on 22 counts of prescription fraud.