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Charge Dropped in Wash. Baby Death

February 1, 1999

PORT ANGELES, Wash. (AP) _ Prosecutors on Monday withdrew a second-degree murder charge against a veteran pediatrician accused of blocking an infant’s breathing after the 3-day-old boy was declared brain dead.

The decision to drop charges against Dr. Eugene Turner came just as his trial was to begin and prompted a burst of cheers and applause from his supporters in the crowded courtroom. Turner, 62, could hardly speak through his tears.

Turner always believed ``he did everything he could to save the life of Conor McInnerney on Jan. 12 of last year,″ said defense attorney Jeff Robinson. ``And he was right, and we think the decision today bears that out.″

There was no evidence the baby’s death was caused by ``any criminal or even negligent act by any other human being,″ said the motion for dismissal filed by prosecutor Jim Townsend and approved by a judge.

The baby’s parents, Martin and Michelle McInnerney, will file a negligence lawsuit against Turner, said their lawyer, Matthew Knoop. They have not decided whether to sue the hospital. The McInnerneys were not in court.

The couple ``are going to be haunted forever by the image of what Dr. Turner did while he was alone with Conor that night,″ Knopp said.

``They believe that justice requires that they file a civil action in order to ... make sure this type of thing doesn’t happen again.″

The charge can be refiled if new evidence surfaces, but such a decision would have to be made fairly quickly _ within the next two weeks, said Snohomish County Prosecutor Jim Krider.

Turner was accused of stopping Conor’s breathing with his hand on Jan. 12, 1998. The infant was declared dead twice after he stopped breathing at home and was brought to the Olympic Memorial Hospital emergency room by ambulance.

Turner said the breathing he stopped was reflexive ``agonal breathing″ that is a sign of imminent death _ and said the infant was already brain dead.

Some experts and hospital staff _ and the boy’s parents _ disagreed. But a trial would not resolve that disagreement, prosecutors concluded.

Townsend said he considered lesser charges of first- or second-degree manslaughter, his motion says. But he concluded a court could not make that charge stick either.

``The expert testimony on this issue is not consistent,″ he wrote, concluding the available evidence would not support a conviction ``of any criminal act″ in the baby’s death.

Turner still faces a May hearing before the state Medical Quality Assurance Commission for alleged unprofessional conduct in the baby’s death. The panel allowed Turner to keep his medical license until his case is heard, but ordered another doctor be present any time he attempted a resuscitation.

Turner voluntarily surrendered his hospital privileges but continued to operate his Peninsula Children’s Clinic.

He said he believes evidence gathered for the trial will help before the commission.

``I think we can have some evidence to bring forth to the state board to indicate that things were maybe not as bad as they originally thought they were,″ Turner said.

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