The daughter of an 81-year-old woman who died after her ventilator became disconnected at a publicly run Uniondale nursing home said justice wasn't served Tuesday after a jury convicted three health care workers of misdemeanors, a day after acquitting them of negligently causing the patient's death.
"My mother lost her life," said Andrea Contrera, expressing disgust while leaving a Mineola courtroom after jurors delivered the second half of a two-part verdict. "I don't feel that justice was served here."
The state attorney general's office had alleged registered nurses Sijimole Reji, 43, of Smithtown, and Annieamma Augustine, 59, of West Hempstead, along with certified nurse aide Martine Morland, 43, of Freeport, ignored the patient's ventilators alarms for nine minutes and 24 seconds.
Special Assistant Attorney General Peter Zadek told jurors that A. Holly Patterson Extended Care Facility patient Carmela Contrera was suffocating as the trio chatted at a nurse's station less than 40 feet away from her room at the end of an overnight shift in December 2015. The woman died the next day while hospitalized.
Defense attorneys contended their clients didn't give emergency care to Contrera because an alarm never sounded throughout the unit to warn that the life support machine the patient needed to breathe was disconnected. They also told jurors evidence showed a respiratory therapist had "faked checking" ventilators and alarms and falsified reports, and claimed facility management set up employees to fail by understaffing the unit.
In a partial verdict Monday, the jury acquitted the defendants of felony charges of endangering the welfare of a vulnerable elderly person and criminally negligent homicide. On a fifth day of deliberations Tuesday, they convicted each defendant of a misdemeanor count of willful violation of public health laws — meaning they neglected Contrera by failing to provide timely and adequate treatment.
The jury also convicted Morland of a felony charge of falsifying business records while acquitting her of another count of the same offense. The panel Monday found Reji and Augustine not guilty of that crime.
Notes the jury sent acting State Supreme Court Justice Robert Schwartz hinted that deliberations became feisty. Prior to each partial verdict, the panel reported — before Schwartz urged them to keep working — that it was unable to reach a unanimous decision.
One note Tuesday said a majority of jurors felt one juror was "not being fair and impartial." Later Tuesday, one juror alluded to "yelling and not communicating" in another note. Several jurors declined interviews while leaving court.
State Attorney General Barbara Underwood said in a statement that prosecutors were "pleased that the jury held the defendants accountable to their obligations under public health laws."
Attorney Michael Franzese, who represented Reji, expressed disappointment about his client's misdemeanor conviction just a day after her acquittal on felony charges.
Attorney Steven Christiansen, who represented Augustine, said he would make a post-trial motion asking the judge to set aside his client's misdemeanor conviction, calling it inconsistent with her felony acquittal.
Morland's attorney, James Toner, said he also would file post-trial motions and added that his client planned an appeal.