The second-degree murder convictions of Dr. Hsiu-Ying “Lisa” Tseng were the first against a U.S. doctor for recklessly prescribing drugs.
LOS ANGELES — A Los Angeles-area doctor was convicted of murder Friday in a landmark case for killing three patients who overdosed on what a prosecutor called “crazy, outrageous amounts” of painkillers she prescribed.
The second-degree murder convictions of Dr. Hsiu-Ying “Lisa” Tseng were the first against a U.S. doctor for recklessly prescribing drugs, the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office said.
It’s rare to bring homicide charges against a physician, but the case came amid a prescription-drug-abuse epidemic that has led lawmakers to try to rein in so-called pill mills that dole out medications with little scrutiny.
“You can’t hide behind a white lab coat and commit crimes,” Deputy District Attorney John Niedermann said.
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A dozen of Tseng’s patients died, though prosecutors only brought three murder charges because of other factors involved in some of those deaths, such as drugs prescribed by other doctors and a possible suicide.
Tseng, 45, showed no emotion as the convictions were read, though her lawyer said she was emotional and very upset later. Jurors deliberated for 10 days.
Tseng was also convicted of illegally writing prescriptions for two of the patients who died and 16 other people, including two undercover agents who were investigating how easily she prescribed addictive pain pills after brief office visits. She was acquitted of illegally writing a hydrocodone prescription to a third undercover officer.
Tseng prescribed “crazy, outrageous amounts of medication” to patients who didn’t need the pills, Niedermann told jurors in Los Angeles County Superior Court during closing arguments.
The doctor repeatedly ignored warning signs, even after several patients died as she was building a new clinic in Rowland Heights with the money she made from them, earning $5 million in one three-year period. One patient overdosed in her office and had to be revived.
Tseng’s lawyer said her client naively trusted her patients. Defense lawyer Tracy Green said patients testified they were legitimately in pain and later became dependent on the drugs, hiding their addictions by seeing other doctors and picking up prescriptions from different pharmacies. Green said an appeal is planned.
Tseng faces up to life in prison when sentenced Dec. 14.
She was convicted of killing Vu Nguyen, 29, of Lake Forest; Steven Ogle, 25, of Palm Desert; and Joseph Rovero, 21, an Arizona State University student from San Ramon. The three died of overdoses between March and December 2009.