After more than nine weeks of testimony, a federal jury is slated to begin deliberating Wednesday in the trial of Barry J. Cadden, the former New England Compounding Center head pharmacist and co-owner who is accused of causing the 2012 fungal meningitis outbreak that killed more than 60 people and sickened roughly 700 more.
US District Judge Richard G. Stearns said after a brief hearing Monday that he will let jurors decide whether Cadden was responsible for causing the deaths of at least 25 of the victims of the outbreak. More than 60 people died, but prosecutors charged Cadden in only 25 of the deaths.
Lawyers for Cadden argued at Monday’s hearing that no “reasonable jury” could convict Cadden of second-degree murder based on the evidence that was introduced in the trial, and that the judge should dismiss the charges related to those murders.
Stearns said after the hearing Monday that while Cadden’s role in some of the crimes could be questioned, the jury should decide.
The judge said he would be willing to dismiss a charge that Cadden defrauded the US Food and Drug Administration by claiming the compounding center was a pharmacy rather than a manufacturer, which would have triggered more federal oversight. Stearns said he was not sure the FDA was defrauded, but he would let the jury decide and could revisit the request to dismiss the charge after a verdict is rendered.
Cadden, 50, of Wrentham, faces more than 90 charges related to the 2012 outbreak, including fraud and racketeering.
Though he has not been charged directly with murder, which is a state crime, federal prosecutors listed second-degree murder counts under the racketeering charge. Prosecutors must show that Cadden committed underlying crimes in order to convict him of racketeering. He faces life in prison if convicted of racketeering and the murder charges.
Cadden is the first person to go to trial on charges related to the outbreak, and he is one of two people charged with causing deaths. Former supervisory pharmacist Glen Chin is slated to be tried on similar charges after Cadden’s trial.
Prosecutors say they and other pharmacists ran a shoddy workplace that skirted industry standards to maximize profits, and that they produced drugs in unsanitary conditions knowing the health risks. In the summer of 2012, three batches of a steroid the compounding center produced were contaminated with mold.
The contaminations led to a public health crisis, a lead investigator for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention testified during the trial. Investigators struggled to determine the cause of the outbreak in September 2012 as reports of illnesses and deaths poured in. Once they identified the contaminated steroid as the source, investigators struggled to figure out how to treat the fungal meningitis.
During Monday’s hearing, an attorney for Cadden argued that while “something went terribly wrong,” Cadden could not be found liable for causing the deaths.
He said prosecutors have not shown exactly how the batches of steroids were contaminated, what Cadden or anybody else did to contaminate them, and how Cadden could be linked to the deaths. He said thousands of other vials of steroids were sent out that did not cause infections.
“Something went terribly wrong, everyone agrees with that. Horribly, terribly wrong. But what went horribly, terribly wrong, nobody can identify that,” Singal said.
But Assistant US Attorney George Varghese argued that Cadden is charged with causing the deaths because he was reckless and indifferent to public safety, creating a shoddy environment that allowed the contamination while he was well aware of the dangers.
He said the outbreak was inevitable because of the way Cadden ran the compounding center.
“He cut corners,” Varghese said. “Eventually, it was going to catch up with him, and it did in September 2012.”
Jurors could begin deliberating Wednesday afternoon, after lawyers in the case give their closing arguments.Milton J. Valencia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia.