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Pharmacist in deadly meningitis outbreak heading to trial

Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe/file 2014

New England Compounding supervising pharmacist Glenn A. Chin (right) left the Moakley Federal Courthouse with his lawyer Stephen Weymouth after being released on bail.

By Alanna Durkin Richer Associated Press 

After watching his mother die from meningitis in a nationwide outbreak caused by contaminated steroids, Scott Shaw was determined to make sure something like that never happens again.

A stiff punishment for the Massachusetts pharmacist Shaw believes is partially responsible may help, he said.

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‘‘I believe as surely as I’m talking to you right now that if something isn’t done, we will repeat this again,’’ the North Carolina man said.

Glenn Chin, supervisory pharmacist at the now-closed New England Compounding Center in Framingham, is to go on trial Tuesday for his role in the 2012 fungal meningitis outbreak, which killed 76 people and sickened hundreds of others.

Chin faces up to life in prison if convicted of all counts of second-degree murder under federal racketeering law.

Experts, and Chin’s defense attorney, believe prosecutors have a stronger case against Chin than they did against the cofounder of the compounding pharmacy, Barry Cadden. Cadden was sentenced in June to nine years in prison after being acquitted of second-degree murder charges but convicted on conspiracy and fraud charges.

Chin ran the so-called clean rooms where steroid injections were made. He is accused of failing to properly sterilize the drugs, among other things. Chin also faces conspiracy, mail fraud, and other charges.

Keith Bedford/Globe Staff

Barry Cadden left the Moakley United States Court in Boston in March.

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‘‘I’m just a little concerned that the judge and the jury might be a little more harsh on Glenn Chin because he was doing the work in the clean room,’’ Chin’s attorney, Stephen Weymouth, said.

Throughout Cadden’s trial, the cofounder’s lawyers tried to push the blame onto Chin. Chin intends to point the finger back at Cadden.

Weymouth said he will argue that Chin was essentially a ‘‘puppet’’ for Cadden, who made working in the clean rooms so difficult that ‘‘mistakes might have been made.’’ Cadden was the one calling the shots and pushing the orders to line his own pockets, Weymouth said.

‘‘I think the government would agree with me that the more culpable of these two parties was actually Barry Cadden,’’ Weymouth said. Chin ‘‘did whatever Cadden told him to do.’’

Former prosecutor David Schumacher said that defense will get Chin only so far. Chin was ultimately responsible for making sure the drugs were safe enough to be put into people’s bodies, Schumacher said.

‘‘Glenn Chin has quite a bit of exposure here,’’ said Schumacher, who was deputy chief of the health care fraud unit in the Massachusetts US attorney’s office before joining Hooper, Lundy & Bookman.

The US attorney’s office declined to comment.

More than 700 people in 20 states were sickened in what’s considered the worst public health crisis in recent US history. The CDC put the death toll at 64 in 2013. Federal officials identified additional victims in their investigation, raising the total number of deaths to 76.

Victims and their family members slammed Cadden’s nine-year sentence as inadequate punishment. Cadden and Chin’s attorneys have said prosecutors overreached with the murder charges and that the men never intended to hurt anyone.

Prosecutors say the pharmacy used expired ingredients, neglected to properly disinfect the clean rooms, and failed to act when mold and bacteria were detected. After the outbreak, regulators found standing water and mold and bacteria in the air and on workers’ gloved fingertips.

Chin is charged in the deaths of 25 people in Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. They include Elwina Shaw, who died at 77 after receiving injections for a bulging disk.

Scott Shaw said he’d like to see Chin spend the rest of his life in prison. But Shaw knows even that won’t make his family whole again.

‘‘We can’t bring her back,’’ he said. ‘‘We’re never going to regain what we lost.”