Two weeks ago, a nurse testified at Weitzel's trial that she had confronted the doctor about the morphine injections. "I had concerns that the morphine would interact with the high doses of psychotropic medications," she said. On cross-examination, Stirba heatedly questioned the nurse's recollection of the incident.
Weitzel's defense team has maintained that the sedative and pain medications, including morphine, he prescribed for the terminally ill patients were based on the compassionate use of "comfort care" for those without long to live. Prosecution experts have testified that the amounts of morphine, Haldol, Trazodone, Risperdal, Ativan, and Fentanyl that Weitzel prescribed for the patients were excessive and used in dangerous combinations, demonstrating Weitzel's gross negligence and intent to kill. None of the dead patients were terminally ill when they entered the clinic, say prosecution witnesses. A week ago Monday, the prosecution rested its case and Stribal began what is expected to be a three-week presentation for the defense.
Last Thursday, Dr. Laurel Herbst, the vice president of San Diego Hospice, took the stand to testify in Weitzel's defense that, based on her review of medical records, the morphine levels Weitzel had prescribed for the five patients who died was not out of line. All five were terminally ill, she said.
[Herbst interview and trial update to come Mon AM, hopefully. She's in Atlanta, per San Diego Hospice. Hopefully can contact on Monday. She probably got paid for this testimony and might not want to talk. We'll see--mp]
Meanwhile, Weitzel has been charged in federal court with 22 counts of fraudulently obtaining Demerol and morphine, controlled substances, for his personal use. Those allegations are still pending. And the Utah Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing (DOPL) filed still more charges against Weitzel in August 1999, alleging that he provided substandard care by prescribing injectable morphine and Demerol to nine patients who had come to him with complaints of headaches, then taking the drug himself.
All of which comes as no surprise to Nancy Sussman, the attorney who handled a malpractice case against Weitzel and UCSD back in 1995. "That's what he did here. He stole from the university." The plaintiff, whom Sussman requests be identified for publication as Patient X to protect her privacy, alleged that Weitzel had initiated a sexual relationship with her after she had entered the university's Gifford Clinic seeking psychiatric treatment following an emotionally crushing divorce in January 1990.
Two years later, after her divorce from her husband became final in June 1992, Weitzel told his patient that he was terminating his therapy sessions with her. The next day, according to the lawsuit, Weitzel and Patient X began a sexual relationship that lasted until 1994, during which time she became pregnant and had an abortion, according to court records. In December 1995, Patient X filed suit against Weitzel and UCSD.
In a letter dated June 23, 1992, which later was made part of the court case, Weitzel wrote to Patient X:
- I love your wisdom,
- I love your laughter,
- I love your strength,
- I love your body,
- I love your child,
- I love your soul,
- I love you,
That same year, Weitzel wrote another letter to Patient X on Utah hotel stationery:
"I've been thinking a lot on the drive here...good thoughts. There's a lot to say; I just want to say it in person instead of by letter or with flowers. I hope your move went well , mine did. (It seemed like earthquakes followed all the way here...)
"It's 3 hours later, and we just spoke on the phone, so you'll call me back in a while and I'm very happy! I'm not much for letters, but you've got me totally wired/inspired/fired -- I'm crazy about you...
"Meditating on the way here, it feels like being born again, opened up, I look forward to the deliciousness of more life with you.
"It'll be fun.
"I'm gonna make it so much fun for both of us. We're both gonna make it fun for each other.
"I haven't written a love letter since grade school."
During the lawsuit, Sussman ferreted out testimony and evidence that she says clearly demonstrates that UCSD was aware of, but repeatedly ignored, signs of trouble with Weitzel.
In a deposition conducted on April 5, 1995, Dr. Stephen Gould was asked by Sussman why he had been requested by UCSD's Dr. Sydney Zisook to monitor Weitzel's behavior. Zisook, Gould testified, had said that "they had a second-year transfer resident...that they had some concerns with and that he was not psychologically minded, very reactive and that it interferes with his professionalism, and that he shows irritation, that he's uncomfortable -- I think this last thing means that he's real uncomfortable with provocative and seductive patients."
Gould also recalled that "others have felt that [Weitzel] himself could be seductive and intrusive and so for these reasons -- and [Zisook] also mentioned on the phone that I remember that [Weitzel] was seen, for example, having a therapy session outside of the office under a tree rather than in the office, and [Zisook] wanted me to help [Weitzel] to understand that it was important to keep therapy in the office"
When contacted late last week and asked for comment about the Weitzel case and his role in it, Zisook hung up the telephone.
Sussman's complaint charged that UCSD had failed to adequately monitor Weitzel's behavior and alleged drug abuse. "Defendant Weitzel made sexual advances to plaintiff, many of which occurred in 'therapy sessions,' which were also held in his apartment, with the presumed knowledge and consent of defendant [UCSD]. Defendant Weitzel also encouraged plaintiff to accompany him to social engagements, offered to give back rubs, made sexual advances, invited plaintiff on dates, took plaintiff to a bar, and offered to marry plaintiff.
"Defendant Weitzel's therapy was ineffective and below the standard of care. Defendant Weitzel encouraged plaintiff to have a sexual relationship with defendant Weitzel and offered the termination of therapy as incentive for sanctioning of their new relationship.