By Jennifer Rollins
BU News Service
After a five-week trial, Glenn Chin, a supervisor at the New England Compounding Center (NECC), was acquitted of second-degree murder, but found guilty of mail fraud under federal racketeering law and other charges on Wednesday.
NECC was implicated in a 2012 mass outbreak of meningitis that killed 76 people and sickened more than 700 more in 20 states. The incident was described by Assistant U.S. Attorney George Varghese as “the largest national health crisis caused by a pharmaceutical product.”
In the following years, experts were able to narrow down the cause to exserohilum rostratum, a type of fungus.
The victims were sickened by fungus-tainted steroid injections, usually used for back pain, from the now closed NECC in Framingham, Massachusetts.
The co-founders of the center, Barry Cadden and Chin, were accused of cutting corners by disregarding findings of mold and bacteria in the NECC clean rooms, failing to test the drugs before distributing them and sending out expired products.
In March 2017, Cadden was cleared of murder, but convicted of conspiracy and fraud charges leading to a sentence of 9 years in prison. He apologized to the surviving victims and loved ones of those who died.
Chin was charged with the second-degree murder of 25 people from Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.
When the names of the victims were read, Chin sat poker-faced in his dark suit.
The failure to follow procedure showed Chin’s “shocking disregard for human life,” said Varghese on the first day of trial.
Varghese explained that Chin used his role as supervisory pharmacist to make drugs in unsanitary conditions to “cut corners.”
“Make no mistake, Glenn Chin is not sitting in this courtroom because he was negligent or careless,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Strachan in her closing statement.
“He is here because of his deliberate choices. . . . His choices had deadly consequences.”
Defense attorneys Stephen Weymouth and Robert Sheketoff maintained throughout the trial that Cadden was to blame and Chin was just an employee.
Weymouth referred to Chin’s actions as “involuntary manslaughter.” Chin had no prior experience in compounded drugs or sterilization when he was hired, Weymouth told jurors. Chin did everything under Cadden’s direction, the defense said.
“This is a horribly tragic death case,” said Weymouth, “but it is not a murder case.”
However, Cadden’s guilt doesn’t mean that Chin is innocent—thugs can be just as much to blame as the bosses in charge, parried Strachan.
“We have never said that Chin or Cadden did this alone,” she said.
The trial has been a dramatic one, with the possibility of life in prison for Chin. There were multiple calls for mistrial and release of a two-word email from Chin to an employee who had expressed concern about fungus: “F— off!!!!”
But in the end, over three days, a jury of 11 women and 4 men looked at the evidence and the pictures of the 25 victims and decided that they could not prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Chin was guilty of murder.