n The Tupelo nurse has pleaded not guilty.
By HOLBROOK MOHR
The Associated Press
JACKSON – The former clinical director of a north Mississippi hospice is scheduled for trial March 26 in a case alleging that several patients died prematurely.
Marilyn Lehman, a nurse and clinical director at Sanctuary Hospice House in Tupelo, was charged last April with 11 misdemeanor counts of administering narcotics without a license. She has pleaded not guilty.
Attorney General Jim Hood has said as many as 11 people in the facility died after they were given excessive medications. Lehman’s trial had been scheduled for November, but it was postponed by scheduling conflicts.
Lehman’s attorney, Ronald Michael, did not immediately respond Friday to a message. He previously has said that his client did nothing wrong.
Dr. Paul White, the facility’s medical director, pleaded guilty last year to misdemeanor charges of aiding and abetting the practice of medicine without a license and one felony count of cyber stalking for sending threatening e-mails to people he thought caused the investigation.
It’s not clear if White will testify against Lehman. He struck a deal with prosecutors and was sentenced to two years of probation and agreed to cooperate.
Authorities say the doctor let Lehman set doses and administer narcotics, then backdated the orders she had written.
The hospice’s attorney, L.F. “Sandy” Sams, has repeatedly said the patients’ deaths were not suspicious or premature. People in hospice care are expected to die because they are terminally ill with just months to live when they are admitted, Sams has said.
The investigation angered many people in the community, including those whose loved ones died at the hospice. The nonprofit hospice opened in 2005 as a pilot project to provide affordable care to rural areas and was intended as a model for other communities.
Others were angered by the way the investigation was handled. Hood fired two of his investigators after they were accused of telling grand jury witnesses to call the media.
Still, the relatives of some people are convinced their loved ones died of excessive doses of morphine and other drugs.
Hood, whose office handled the investigation, has said some patients were given such massive doses of morphine that “it was like a poison on the body.”
Hood has told The Associated Press that a grand jury was presented with several options, including that the hospice deaths were deliberate. They settled on the misdemeanor charges.