Psychiatrist sentenced to 15 years in morphine overdose deaths

FARMINGTON, Utah - A psychriatrist who killed five elderly patients by prescribing fatal morphine overdoses was sentenced to 15 years in prison, half the term he had faced.

Dr. Robert Weitzel, 44, was convicted in July of two counts of manslaughter and three counts of negligent homicide.

Judge Thomas Kay sentenced him Friday to two 15-year terms - one for each manslaughter count - and three one-year terms for the negligent homicide convictions, to be served concurrently. He faced up to 30 years in prison.

As Weitzel was led from the courtroom after his sentencing, he stopped in front of a photographer and defiantly said, ''I'm not guilty.''

Weitzel caused the deaths of five patients he was treating for senile dementia in the geriatric-psychiatric unit he ran at the Davis Hospital and Medical Center in Layton. All five died during a 16-day period from December 1995 to January 1996.

During the hearing, prosecutors said Weitzel was a pompous man who refused to consult with other doctors and ignored the law in addition to hospital policies.

''There is no question in my mind that this was a crime of arrogance,'' said Davis County Attorney Melvin Wilson.

Weitzel's attorneys argued during his trial that the patients were terminally ill and he was merely trying to ease their pain in their final moments.

Defense attorney Peter Stirba had asked Kay to impose probation, saying the case could send a negative message to doctors who are administering to dying patients.

The judge also ordered Weitzel to pay $15,864 in restitution to victims' families for funeral and burial expenses. The victims were Ennis Alldredge, 85; Ellen Anderson, 91; Mary Crane, 72; Judith Larsen, 93; and Smith, 90. All were being treated by Weitzel for senile dementia.

In brief remarks to the court, Weitzel apologized to victims' relatives, telling them he believed his actions were ''ethically appropriate under the circumstances.''

However, he told Kay he couldn't accept the jury's findings.

''I did the best I could in good faith and with no malice or intent to harm,'' Weitzel said.

Weitzel, whose medical license has been suspended, also faces federal charges in Utah on 22 counts of prescription fraud.

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