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Florida Doctor Found Guilty Of Manslaughter, Racketeering

Dr. Asuncion Luyao Faces Maximum 30 Year Prison Term – Appeal Planned

A Florida physician was found guilty of manslaughter in early March 2006. The Palm Beach Post reported on March 7, 2006 ( "Luyao Guilty Of One Death, Trafficking") that "A suspended Port St. Lucie doctor who was one of the first in the nation to be charged with causing the deaths of patients from prescription drug abuse was found guilty Monday of manslaughter in one of those cases. After listening to more than two weeks of testimony and deliberating for 3 1/2 days, a six-member jury also found Asuncion Luyao, 64, guilty of racketeering and five counts of trafficking in oxycodone. The single manslaughter conviction was linked to the death of Fort Pierce resident Julia Hartsfield, 52, a patient of Luyao's from 1996 until she died in 2001. The jurors acquitted Luyao of five other manslaughter counts and one other trafficking count, but the verdict probably means she will spend the rest of her life in prison."

According to the Post, "Inside the small St. Lucie Circuit courtroom packed with her family, relatives of some of her patients and spectators, the petite grandmother stared straight ahead with her hands clasped together as she listened to the verdict. These six jurors were able to do what six picked to decide the case last year could not. Her original trial on the same charges ended in a mistrial after jurors failed to reach a unanimous decision on any of the counts. On Monday evening, jurors said they had studied all 200 exhibits sent back to the jury room. 'Every single person read every single file and then we basically hashed it out,' said juror George Dietz of Port St. Lucie. Prosecutors argued that a motivation to make money drove Luyao to stop functioning as a legitimate medical doctor and became a 'drug dealer with a prescription pad.' But her defense attorney said she was a caring and compassionate physician who was 'taken in' by some patients who lied to her in order to get prescriptions. He argued she might have been naive, but her actions weren't criminal. Luyao faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison on each of the racketeering and trafficking charges. The manslaughter charge carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison. Luyao will be sentenced April 21."

The Post noted that "These six jurors were able to do what six picked to decide the case last year could not. Her original trial on the same charges ended in a mistrial after jurors failed to reach a unanimous decision on any of the counts."

According to the Post, "Prosecutors alleged Luyao ran a 'pill mill' from her office in the old Village Green plaza, where she gained a reputation as a doctor who would prescribe large doses of powerful, addictive narcotics with few questions asked and little to no examinations. If her patients were addicted, prosecutors argued, they would continue to pay a required $80 fee for each return visit required for a refill. An undercover investigator with the state attorney general's office testified that he visited Luyao six times during five months, posing as a painter with nonexistent back and hip pain. She prescribed him OxyContin on each visit, even though he said she never examined him thoroughly or received records of his alleged injuries. The five trafficking counts that Luyao was convicted of were linked to five of the undercover investigator's visits to her office. The jury acquitted Luyao only on the trafficking count connected to the investigator's first visit. Neither prosecuting nor defense attorneys changed their overall strategies for the retrial, but both were able to get in some new information this time that the original jury didn't hear."

The Post reported that "Defense attorney Joel Hirschhorn called it an 'odd verdict' and said he plans to appeal. 'I think the jury tried hard, but that doesn't mean I can't be bitterly disappointed,' Hirschhorn said. 'This could put someone behind bars for the rest of her life for something I'm not convinced is a crime, but unfortunately the state of Florida has made it so.'"

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