A federal judge presiding over the trial of an owner of a Framingham pharmacy linked to a deadly meningitis outbreak has barred prosecutors from calling more family members of victims to testify in the case.
In a five-page order filed Monday in US District Court in Boston, Judge Richard G. Stearns wrote that the three relatives who have already testified in the trial of Barry J. Cadden have had an “emotional impact on the jurors ... particularly as the testimony in each instance has turned inevitably (and understandably) to a description of the suffering of the victim prior to death.”
Cadden, an owner of the now-shuttered New England Compounding Center, is charged in a sweeping indictment with causing the deaths of 25 people who were sickened in 2012 by contaminated drugs manufactured at the facility. If convicted, he could be sentenced to life in prison. He has pleaded not guilty.
In his ruling, Stearns noted that Cadden is not contesting the cause of death for any of the victims. He said he doubted other relatives could provide evidence on “the issue of medical causation” or whether Cadden acted unlawfully in the face of a “plain and likely result of death” from the contamination.
By inflaming the passions of the jury, additional testimony from family members would be prejudicial to Cadden, Stearns ruled.
“[T]he court believes that family witness victim-description testimony has now reached the ... prejudice tipping point,” Stearns wrote. “No further testimony in this vein will therefore be permitted. The court will make an exception in cases in which the government can demonstrate that the witness is competent to testify to an issue pertinent to the defendant’s legal guilt.”
In a related decision on Monday, Stearns ruled that a medical examiner will be permitted to testify about what caused the victims’ deaths, but autopsy photos “will be excluded as unduly prejudicial.”
Cadden’s lawyers contend that he cannot be held responsible for the mistakes of a corporation and that he did nothing to cause the drug contamination. In fact, he hired cleaners and other companies to test for contamination and lashed out at them for poor performance, the lawyers say.
More than 60 people from at least seven states died after receiving a fungus-contaminated drug prepared by the compounding center. An additional 700 were sickened in the nationwide outbreak of fungal meningitis that followed.
Prosecutors allege that Cadden and other pharmacists were responsible for skirting industry regulations and allowing the contamination to occur.
Fourteen people have been charged criminally in connection with the case, but only Cadden and supervisory pharmacist Glenn A. Chin were charged with directly causing deaths. Chin has also pleaded not guilty and will be tried separately.