Murder charge upheld against nurse in hepatitis C case

District Judge Valerie Adair on Thursday refused to dismiss the murder indictment against nurse anesthetist Ronald Lakeman in the hepatitis C outbreak.

After a brief hearing, Adair said prosecutors presented “sufficient evidence” to the grand jury tying Lakeman to a conspiracy that led to the death of Rodolfo Meana, a 77-year-old victim of the 2007 outbreak who died in April in his native Philippines.

Lakeman’s lawyer, Rick Santacroce, said afterward he would appeal Adair’s ruling to the Nevada Supreme Court.

Santacroce said in court it was “absolutely absurd” to connect Lakeman to Meana’s death, arguing Lakeman didn’t even participate in the colonoscopy that resulted in Meana’s hepatitis infection.

Last month, Adair denied a defense writ challenging the sufficiency of the murder indictment against Dr. Dipak Desai, who ran the clinics where the hepatitis C outbreak occurred.

Desai, 63, and Lakeman, 65, are facing a second-degree murder charge in Meana’s death, with other charges including criminal neglect of patients and insurance fraud, tied to the hepatitis infections of Meana and six others in the outbreak. The Supreme Court last month ordered Adair to dismiss a racketeering charge against the two defendants.

A second nurse anesthetist charged in the outbreak, Keith Mathahs, pleaded guilty last month to five criminal charges, including patient neglect resulting in Meana’s death. Mathahs, 76, agreed to testify against Desai and Lakeman .

Adair’s decision comes as Desai’s lead defense lawyer, Richard Wright, has filed court papers seeking to reopen legal proceedings to determine whether Desai is competent to stand trial.

Wright said in the papers a recent mental evaluation of Desai concluded that two strokes left him unable to assist his lawyers in the complicated criminal case. State medical experts in late 2011 found that Desai had exaggerated the effects of the strokes, and a judge last year ruled him competent to stand trial.

Adair has set a hearing Tuesday on whether to revisit the competency issue.

Desai, a gastroenterologist who gave up his medical license, performed the 2007 colonoscopy on Meana, and Mathahs participated in the procedure.

Though Lakeman did not participate, prosecutors contend he was just as culpable in Meana’s death under the theory of the murder charge, which alleges all three defendants were part of a conspiracy that endangered the lives of Desai’s patients.

The murder indictment accused the nurse anesthetists of unlawfully “introducing the hepatitis C virus” into Meana’s body during the colonoscopy.

Contact Jeff German at jgerman@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-8135.

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