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Trial begins for Dallas anesthesiologist in tainted IV bag case

Trial begins for Dallas anesthesiologist in tainted IV bag case
Trial begins for Dallas anesthesiologist in tainted IV bag case 05:55

UPDATE — A jury of eight women and six men will hear the case against Dr. Raynaldo Ortiz. That includes twelve jurors and two alternates. Ortiz walked into the courtroom wearing a navy suit and sporting long white hair. At times he wore a face mask.

During opening statements, each side laid out the case they will present to jurors.

Federal prosecutor John De La Garza told the panel while doctors take an oath to do no harm, "this case is about a different kind of doctor." According to De La Garza, Dr. Ortiz committed his crimes in plain sight, calling his behavior around the IV bag warming cabinet "highly, highly unusual."

Defense attorneys took issue with that characterization, promising to show the jury several videos of other doctors and medical staff doing the same things Ortiz was seen on camera doing.

John Nicholson, a public defender, called the government's case an example of "confirmation bias," telling jurors, "They just see what they want to see," and that Ortiz was a "convenient person to blame."

Nicholson also pointed to fingerprint test results that he said helped exonerate Ortiz – evidence Nicholson said was not disclosed by the prosecution.

The judge released jurors after opening statements. Testimony begins Tuesday at 9 a.m. 

DALLAS — A federal criminal trial is starting Monday morning for a North Texas doctor whom prosecutors have called a "medical terrorist." Raynaldo Ortiz is accused of putting patients at risk by poisoning their IV bags. It started in August 2022 when the Baylor Scott & White Surgicare Center in North Dallas was suddenly forced to close its doors. 

The move came at the end of a string of unexplained emergencies; Throughout that summer, 10 patients were rushed to nearby emergency rooms after problems during their procedures. 

At the time, attorney Bruce Steckler told CBS News Texas he represented one of the patients, an 18-year-old man who underwent sinus surgery. "That's what makes this so unique, is when you have healthy patients having routine procedures having to be rushed out of there, intubated and ventilated."

All of the patients survived, but a doctor who worked at the facility did not.

Dr. Melane Kaspar was an anesthesiologist who was sick in June 2022. Her husband says she brought an IV bag home to rehydrate. Minutes after inserting the needle, Kaspar suffered a fatal heart attack. 

Test results showed both Kaspar and the 18-year-old patient were poisoned with the nerve blocker Bupivacaine. Investigators say they linked the tainted bags to another anesthesiologist at the facility: Raynaldo Ortiz. 

Ortiz was already under investigation by the facility for a problem in one of his surgeries. Investigators say Ortiz was angry over the potential loss of his job, which they say would have been "financially devastating." That was in May 2022; the mysterious cardiac emergencies started a few days later.

Surveillance videos showed Dr. Ortiz putting single IV bags into storage cabinets on multiple occasions, according to prosecutors. Medical workers told investigators that was a job typically handled by nurses, not doctors, and not one bag at a time. Prosecutors say those instances coincided with the patient emergencies, but none of them happened during Ortiz's procedures.

In one case, a nurse told investigators when she retrieved an IV bag for Ortiz, "he vehemently refused the bag and said he would get his own bag."

John Helms is a former federal prosecutor who read the complaint against Ortiz. "I don't know that at the end of the day, if there's really going to be an issue that the bags were contaminated," Helms told CBS News Texas. "I think it's going to be, can they prove it was Dr. Ortiz who did it?"

According to court documents, seven doctors and four patients could be called to testify. 

Ortiz is facing 10 federal charges related to the tampering of IV bags, which carry a sentence of up to life in prison if convicted. He has been in pretrial custody since his arrest, and his medical license was suspended.

Ortiz has pleaded not guilty and denied all of the allegations. His attorneys say the evidence against him is made up of "suspicious coincidences."

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