Ernesto Pinzon, M.D., charged with first-degree murder for injecting a terminally ill patient with drugs, says he never intended to kill the 70-year-old lung cancer patient.
But his lawyer worries that Pinzon's decision to seek help from suicide doctor Jack Kevorkian's lawyer will make people think he's a crusader for assisted suicide.
"He's not in that camp at all," attorney Roger Craig said last week, one day before a bond hearing was scheduled in Highlands County Circuit Court in Sebring, Fla. "Pinzon has no agenda.*.*.*.*He's a young fellow, just starting out in life, who wants to cure people."
A grand jury found enough cause last week to charge Pinzon, 36, with "willful, premeditated and unjustified murder."
The charge arose from the Oct. 6 death of Rosario Gurrieri, a patient at Highlands Regional Medical Center in Sebring. Pinzon gave Gurrieri morphine, Valium and then potassium chloride, which is sometimes used for executions.
Gurrieri died less than an hour later.
Hospital administrators reported Pinzon to authorities two days after Gurrieri's death. State medical regulators issued an emergency order to suspend his license two weeks later.
Pinzon's supporters contend he used a smaller dose that wasn't intended to kill the patient and-at least in theory-could make the morphine injections more effective.
In handing up the indictment, the grand jury cited the testimony of a hospital nursing supervisor, who asked Pinzon why he gave his patient potassium chloride.
She said Pinzon had answered: "It was to make the patient's heart stop."
Craig attributed the indictment to one-sided testimony. Pinzon didn't testify, and other doctors sympathetic to him weren't given a chance to make their case, Craig said.
For his criminal trial, Pinzon retained Michigan lawyer Geoffrey Fieger, who has successfully defended Kevorkian in three assisted-suicide trials.
The issues here are different from Kevorkian's cases, however.
The grand jury found no evidence Gurrieri or his family asked Pinzon to give any medication to speed death.
Also, Pinzon has told state medical investigators he didn't intend to kill his patient with the potassium chloride. In contrast, Kevorkian admitted his role in the assisted suicides after obtaining his patients' consent.