Port Angeles: Case closed

On Monday, Snohomish County Prosecutor Jim Krider dropped the second-degree murder charges against Port Angeles pediatrician Eugene Turner, who was accused of suffocating 3-day-old Conor McInnerney last year. Krider was appointed special prosecutor in the Turner case when local Clallam County Prosecutor David Bruneau was unseated in November shortly after charging the popular doctor with murder. The trial was originally scheduled to begin January 25, but Krider stalled and never seemed comfortable with the case.

Dr. Turner has maintained throughout that Conor was already brain-dead the evening of January 12, 1998 when he plugged the baby's nose and mouth after hours of resuscitation efforts, and that he was only extinguishing the infant's postmortem spasms, known as "agonal respiration." Bruneau wasn't so sure, and charged Turner with second-degree murder after a nine-month investigation that included testimony suggesting that the baby might have been recovering. Still, the murder charge seemed overly harsh. It was certainly unpopular in Port Angeles, where Turner has practiced for almost 30 years.

It seems that Krider also had misgivings, although charges may eventually be refiled.

In situations like the Turner case, which turn on gray areas of law and medicine, prosecutors will sometimes try to bring a lesser charge in order to secure a conviction. But even if Krider could have overridden the original murder charge, former King County Deputy Prosecutor Bill Fligeltaub suggests that in this case, a lesser charge-manslaughter-may be even more difficult to prove. Turner was accused of murder in the second degree, which requires intent to kill, but not premeditation. The Revised Code of Washington defines manslaughter as reckless disregard for life. Since Turner, even by his own admission, intentionally put his hand over the baby's nose and mouth, prosecutors would have had difficulty making a manslaughter charge stick.

In the background of all this is the political reality of Turner's popularity and the unlikelihood that Port Angeles jurors would convict someone widely regarded as the most admired man in town. Turner's supporters have even raised more than $40,000 in his defense, while some of his accusers have subsequently found themselves out of work.

Meanwhile, outside of criminal court, the Washington State Medical Quality Assurance Commission has accused Turner of unprofessional conduct and restricted his license to prevent the pediatrician from attempting other resuscitations. The commission said it would reserve final judgment on Turner until after the criminal proceedings were resolved.

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