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US surgeon cleared of Australian death charges

November 15, 2013

BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — Australian prosecutors on Friday dropped manslaughter charges against an American surgeon to end an eight-year legal wrangle that has reached the nation’s highest court.

Queensland state’s chief prosecutor Tony Moynihan said in a statement he had decided against pursuing criminal negligence charges against Indian-born U.S. citizen Jayant Patel for several reasons, including prosecutors’ failure to prove their cases in the surgeon’s latest two trials.

But Patel later pleaded guilty in the Queensland District Court on Friday to four fraud charges stemming from his medical registration and employment as chief surgeon at regional Bundaberg Base Hospital from 2003 to 2005.

The 63-year-old will be sentenced on these charges next week.

With credit for more than two years already served in prison, Patel could soon be sent home to Portland, Oregon, without spending any more time in custody. The maximum sentence he would face for the fraud convictions was not immediately clear.

Patel was convicted in the Queensland Supreme Court in 2010 of three counts of manslaughter and one of causing a patient grievous bodily harm during surgery at Bundaberg. He was sentenced to seven years in prison, but Australia’s highest court threw out those convictions last year after Patel appealed.

Prosecutors began retrying Patel one charge at a time. A jury acquitted him of the manslaughter of a patient in March. A second trial on a charge of causing a patient grievous bodily harm ended with a deadlocked jury last month.

At these latest trials, Moynihan said Patel “has presented credible evidence from medical experts” while prosecutors had “not been able to satisfy the requirement of proving the alleged negligence to the criminal standard.”

“In all the circumstances ... I have decided that it is not in the public interest to continue the counts alleging criminal negligence against Jayant Patel,” Moynihan said.

Patel’s lawyer Ken Fleming told reporters his client hopes to return to the United States soon.

“He hopes that, but we’re going to have to wait to see what the judge has to say” when Patel returns to court for sentencing on Thursday, Fleming said.

Patel is free on bail and declined to talk to journalists on Friday.

Patel’s competency as a surgeon has been under scrutiny in both the U.S. and Australia for more than 25 years. When his patients and colleagues at the Bundaberg hospital began to complain about his work, he left Australia and returned to the U.S. The FBI arrested him in Oregon in 2008 and he was extradited to Australia, where prosecutors accused him of misdiagnosing patients and using sloppy, out-of-date surgical techniques.

An Australian government inquiry initially found that Patel may have directly contributed to 13 deaths at the Bundaberg hospital.

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