Next week a federal jury in Boston, Mass., will begin hearing arguments on the largest and deadliest drug contamination disaster in the country's history, but federal prosecutors will be barred from telling the jurors just how deadly it was.
Scheduled for opening arguments Monday is the criminal trial of Barry Cadden, a former pharmacist and owner of the now-defunct New England Compounding Center in Framingham, Mass, who is facing charges of racketeering, 25 counts of second-degree murder and mail and wire fraud charges.
According to a filing by a federal agent in a related case, 76 patients died from fungus-riddled steroids NECC shipped to surgery centers, hospitals and pain clinics.
Joseph Ridgley, a special agent for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, wrote in the affidavit that the criminal investigation turned up 12 more deaths than had been reported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And, the total number of patients sickened was 778, up from the 751 in the official CDC count.
But neither the FDA count nor the lower CDC count can be mentioned in Mr. Cadden's trial under a ruling issued this week by U.S. District Judge Richard G. Stearns. Under his order, prosecutors can refer to the outbreak in general terms and cite "multiple deaths," but not the case counts.
Nor can prosecutors provide details of any deaths beyond the 25 specifically cited in the 131-count indictment.
One possible prosecution witness is Robert Ronzio, who worked for NECC's sales affiliate, Medical Sales Management. Mr. Ronzio has entered a guilty plea to a single count of conspiracy to defraud the FDA. Under his plea agreement, Mr. Ronzio agreed to assist prosecutors.
In a series of pre-trial motions Mr. Cadden's lawyer, Bruce Singal, has sought to limit or even eliminate testimony from some of the prosecution witnesses. Judge Stearns has granted some, but not all of those requests.
The Cadden trial will be followed by the trial of NECC's supervising pharmacist Glenn Chin, who also faces second-degree murder charges. Pretrial filings indicate that Mr. Cadden intends to charge that it was "Chin and Chin alone" who was responsible for the deaths.
The remaining NECC defendants are scheduled for trial in April.
Mr. Roche is a former reporter for the Baltimore Sun and Nashville Tennessean who covers the meningitis case on his blog.