Miss. doctor pleads guilty to e-mail threats

Published 4:32 pm Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A Mississippi hospice director said Monday that scotch and sleeping pills made him send threatening e-mails to people he blamed for a criminal investigation of deaths at his facility.

Dr. Paul White, director of Sanctuary Hospice House, pleaded guilty in state court to one count of cyber stalking and six misdemeanor counts of aiding and abetting the practice of medicine without a license. He emphatically denied that his actions hastened the deaths of his patients.

The court hearing was the culmination of a monthslong investigation of allegations that some patients were intentionally given lethal doses of morphine or other drugs.

About a month after White was indicted in April on charges of neglect and aiding and abetting the practice of medicine without a license, he sent threatening e-mails to at least three people.

He apologized in court Monday for sending the e-mails in response to a blog entry that accused hospice staff members of killing patients.

The e-mails included threats to “disembowel” the hospice’s former chaplain and “feed his guts to our hogs,” according to court records.

“I accept responsibility in this matter,” White said. “I assure everyone that I’m not a violent person.”

White was sentenced to two years of probation as part of a deal with prosecutors. He also agreed to testify against a hospice nurse accused of administering narcotics without a license.

White said he is resigning and will leave as soon as the hospice can find a replacement.

Neglect charges were dismissed as part of the deal and adjudication was withheld, meaning White won’t have a felony conviction if he testifies, if called, against Marilyn Lehman.

Lehman, a nurse and the facility’s clinical director, was charged along with White in a 33-count indictment. It was not clear when she will be tried. She has denied doing anything wrong.

The relatives of several people who died at the hospice were angered by what they considered a light sentence for White. He was fined $150 for each of the six misdemeanor counts.

“Basically, what they said is that the value of a human life in Lee County is $150 a head,” said attorney Steven Irwin, who represents several families of the dead.

White’s attorney, Tony Farese, said after the hearing that his client never hurt patients.

“He’s been accused of euthanization and all sorts of stuff, which wasn’t true,” Farese said.

Attorney General Jim Hood, whose office led the investigation, said Monday that excessive doses of pain medication were administered at the hospice without supervision and there was no question White was negligent.

“The doctor came by once a week and signed whatever they gave him,” Hood said, adding that the result was that patients “were prematurely dying.”

Claims of euthanasia at the facility have polarized many residents. Dozens packed the courtroom Monday to support White and the hospice, with several people standing because they refused to sit among the families of the alleged victims.

The hospice, which opened in 2005 as a pilot project to provide affordable care to rural areas, was intended as a model for other communities. Millions have been donated to the facility and some of the most prominent people in Mississippi have worked on its behalf.

“We appreciate the good care that Dr. Paul White has rendered to patients at Sanctuary Hospice House,” the hospice said in a statement Monday. “We do not know what precipitated the investigation, but we are comfortable that the quality of care we provide at Sanctuary Hospice House is the best available both from our professional staff members and our volunteers.”