LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — A Rowland Heights doctor was convicted of second-degree murder Friday for the drug-overdose deaths of three of her patients.
Hsiu-Ying "Lisa" Tseng was convicted for the deaths of three patients, all in their 20s -- Vu Nguyen, 29, of Lake Forest; Steven Ogle, 25, of Palm Desert; and Joseph Rovero III, a 21-year-old Arizona State University student from San Ramon.
Their deaths occurred between March and December 2009.
Tseng's case marked the first time a California doctor was charged with murder for the deaths of patients for whom she had prescribed drugs.
A prosecutor told jurors earlier this month that Tseng, 45, faked medical records to cover up her misdeeds. The defense countered, however, that
while Tseng could be been better at practicing medicine, she was not a murderer.
Deputy DA John Niedermann told jurors the case involved the "prescribing of high levels of opiates" without medical justification to
patients who did not need them even after learning some had overdosed on the substances for which she prescribed.
"What you have is an individual who learns through experience ... that people can overdose and die," Niedermann said, telling jurors that she had
to have had first-hand knowledge that something was wrong with her prescribing patterns.
"During all this time, it's full bore with prescribing ... It's conscious disregard. It's appreciation of the risk," the prosecutor said.
"She is warned again and again and again. They're dying, they're dying, they're dying ... She understands what she's doing, the harm of it and she
does it anyway."
Niedermann also told jurors that Tseng had received calls from coroner's officials about deaths of some of the patients, along with fielding calls from family members who had told her not to prescribe to or see their loved ones.
The prosecutor called Tseng's medical records "fake," arguing that they were "manufactured by the defendant at a later date."
"These aren't skimpy charts. They're empty charts," Niedermann said.
The prosecutor said Tseng "accepts no personal responsibility for heractions in this case," while noting that she was "willing to fall on one
Tseng's lawyer, Tracy Green, however, accused investigators of a "rush to judgment" and of singling Tseng out and failing to interview other
doctors who may have treated the patients, who she said took "far in excess" of the dosages prescribed by Tseng.
The defense attorney said there was "no evidence" that her client was just writing prescriptions to patients who asked for them, and said the
doctor was trying to taper down the medication of some patients.
"She is trusting the patient ... in hindsight too much," Green told jurors of her client, whom she had earlier described to jurors as "nerdy" and
"not street smart."
Green acknowledged that some of the charts of Tseng's patients were "skimpy" on details about her visits with them.
"What she did do is that she could have practiced better," Green said, telling jurors that the mother of two was "working in the trenches of a
clinic, probably working too much."
Green noted that her client stopped practicing at the clinic in November 2011 and that "there's a likelihood that she'd never be a doctor" again.
Tseng agreed in February 2012 to surrender her license to practice in California, just before being taken into custody. She has been behind bars in lieu of $3 million bail since her arrest on March 1, 2012.
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