May 16, 2012

Portland hospital loses appeal in manslaughter case

Ann S. Kim

PORTLAND — The Maine Supreme Judicial Court today denied Mercy Hospital's appeal over documents related to the death of the alleged victim in a manslaughter trial.

Opening statements in the trial of Ernest Weidul were scheduled for Tuesday, but the trial was on hold as Mercy Hospital fought the judge's order to disclose information related to peer and internal reviews of the death of 46-year-old Roger Downs Jr.

Weidul, 52, is charged with manslaughter in Downs' 2010 death. The prosecution contends that Downs' died from a closing of his airways caused by injuries to his death. Weidul's legal team argues that Downs died from a type of pneumonia and is seeking the hospital records as part of their defense.

Thomas Connolly, one of Weidul's lawyers, noted that the information is generally confidential but that sometimes that confidentiality can give way to other rights like the right to confront and cross-examine in a criminal trial.

"The law court has clearly said we are entitled to these materials," he said. "We believe that the materials will be very helpful in the case of causation. And we think it will affirm our theory and help us prevail in the case."

While the state supreme court has denied the hospital's appeal, it's not yet clear when the trial will begin.

Justice Joyce Wheeler, the trial judge, has set a hearing for 9 a.m. Thursday to determine how to proceed with her order.

Steven Johnson, an Augusta-based lawyer representing the hospital, would not comment on the case.

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