The supervisory pharmacist at a former Massachesetts laboratory that was at the epicenter of a 2012 fungal meningitis outbreak that killed 76 people, including nearly two dozen patients in Michigan, is to go on trial this week in Boston on murder charges.
Glenn Chin, the head pharmacist at the now-closed New England Compounding Center in Framingham, about 22 miles west of Boston, is to go on trial Tuesday on second-degree murder charges under the federal racketeering law. He is charged in the deaths of 25 people in Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia, and faces life imprison if convicted.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, there were 264 cases in Michigan, including 19 deaths. At least three other Michigan residents on the west side of the state died after receiving injections in Indiana, and were counted in that state’s statistics.
Experts, and Chin’s defense attorney, believe prosecutors have a stronger case against Chin than they did against the co-founder of the compounding pharmacy, Barry Cadden. Cadden was sentenced in June to nine years in prison after being acquitted of second-degree murder charges but convicted on conspiracy and fraud charges.
Chin ran the so-called clean rooms where steroid injections were made. He is accused of failing to properly sterilize the drugs, among other things. Chin also faces conspiracy, mail fraud and other charges.
“I’m just a little concerned that the judge and the jury might be a little more harsh on Glenn Chin because he was doing the work in the clean room,” Chin’s attorney, Stephen Weymouth, said.
Throughout Cadden’s trial, the co-founder’s lawyers tried to push the blame onto Chin. Chin intends to point the finger back at Cadden.
Weymouth said he will argue that Chin was essentially a “puppet” for Cadden, who made working in the clean rooms so difficult that “mistakes might have been made.” Cadden was the one calling the shots and pushing the orders to line his own pockets, Weymouth said.
“I think the government would agree with me that the more culpable of these two parties was actually Barry Cadden,” Weymouth said. Chin “did whatever Cadden told him to do.”
Peggy Nuerenberg – whose 88-year-old mother Mary Plettl, of Haslett, Mich., died in 2012 after receiving a tainted injection – said she was disappointed in the sentence Cadden received. In an interview Sunday, she said she feels hopeless.
“I don’t have a lot of hope that, you know, the outcome will be any different than what it already was,” Nuerenberg said. “I’m kind of disgusted with it all.”
Former prosecutor David Schumacher said that defense will only get Chin so far. Chin was ultimately responsible for making sure the drugs were safe enough to be put into people’s bodies, Schumacher said.
“Glenn Chin has quite a bit of exposure here,” said Schumacher, who was deputy chief of the health care fraud unit in the Massachusetts U.S. attorney’s office before joining Hooper, Lundy & Bookman.
The U.S. attorney’s office declined to comment on Chin’s case.
More than 700 people in 20 states were sickened in what’s considered the worst public health crisis in recent U.S. history. The CDC put the death toll at 64 in 2013. Federal officials identified additional victims in their investigation, raising the total number of deaths to 76.
Victims and their family members slammed Cadden’s nine-year sentence as inadequate punishment. Cadden and Chin’s attorneys have said prosecutors overreached with the murder charges and that the men never intended to hurt anyone.
Prosecutors say the pharmacy used expired ingredients, neglected to properly disinfect the clean rooms and failed to act when mold and bacteria was detected. After the outbreak, regulators found standing water and mold and bacteria in the air and on workers’ gloved fingertips.
Elwina Shaw died at the age of 77 after receiving injections for a bulging disk. Scott Shaw of North Carolina, whose mother died in the outbreak, says he would like to see Chin spend the rest of his life in prison. But Shaw knows even that won’t make his family whole again.
“We can’t bring her back,” he said. “We’re never going to regain what we lost.”
Detroit Free Press Staff Writer Gina Kaufman contributed to this report.