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Dr. Stan Li not reckless or criminal in how he distributed pain killers, defense lawyer says

Dr. Stan Xuhui Li walks in the hallway

Dr. Stan Xuhui Li walks in the hallway of State Supreme Court in lower Manhattan during the first day of his trial on Wednesday, April 2, 2014. Credit: Charles Eckert

Accused pain-prescription peddler Dr. Stan Li may have been negligent and gullible but he wasn't depraved, reckless or criminal, a defense lawyer argued as summations began Wednesday at the manslaughter trial of Haven Drug gunman David Laffer's pain doctor.

"If he acted with the purpose of aiding his patients, the crime is not proven," said lawyer Raymond Belair, contending that Li did no more than focus on easing pain in even his most troubled patients. "If all they have shown is negligence, practicing medicine in good faith doesn't mean you got it all right."

But prosecutor Peter Kougasian told the Manhattan state court jury that testimony in the three-month trial showed the Queens pain doctor in at least 20 cases doled out dangerous drugs to deteriorating patients, collecting their money with only a pretense of medical care.

"Feeding a network of addiction -- what else can you use to describe what you saw in this courtroom?" Kougasian asked jurors.

Li, 60, a Hamilton, New Jersey, anesthesiologist who ran a weekend pain clinic in Flushing, is charged with manslaughter in the deaths of two patients, reckless endangerment of seven, and criminal sale of prescriptions for oxycodone and other drugs to 20. Seven of 20 patients in the indictment died of overdoses.

One of the manslaughter charges involves Joseph Haeg, 37, of East Moriches, who died in 2009, a few days after receiving the last of prescriptions for 800 pills in the last six weeks of his life from Li. One of the 20 counts of selling prescriptions relates to Laffer, who killed four in a 2011 Medford pharmacy robbery.

The end of summations and jury instructions are expected Thursday, followed by deliberations. The trial began April 2, and featured testimony from ex-patients and their families, Li, and experts for both the defense and prosecution.

Belair's closing echoed his client's testimony. Li, he said, was obligated to believe his patients -- even if they were addicted or disturbed -- when they said they were in pain, obligated to keep relieving the pain even amid evidence they might be abusing drugs, and not responsible if they lied to him or overdosed by ignoring his instructions.

And he also noted that the most serious charges require recklessness, bad faith and "depraved" indifference to patient welfare, not just bad doctoring. Li, he said, tried to reduce the dependencies of psychologically troubled patients, and was more than a "pill pusher."

"Did he strike you as being depraved, wicked, evil?" Belair asked jurors. "Or did he strike you as someone who was dealing with very difficult patients?"

Kougasian focused on patients like Haeg. Li exacerbated their dependency by prescribing fast-acting opioids that created daily cycles of withdrawal, he argued, and saw evidence of noncompliance with dosage instructions long before tragedy struck.

"Dr. Li is not charged with intent to hurt anyone,"' he said. "He is charged with recklessness -- with ignoring the evidence right before his very eyes."

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