Alexander DeLuca, M.D.
Complex medical testimony, dueling experts, emotional stories of loss and addiction - the Port St. Lucie physician's retrial had it all, not to mention more than 50 witnesses and hundreds of pieces of evidence to ponder. Plus, they couldn't take notes.
"The whole experience was probably one of the most difficult things I've had to endure, to be honest with you," said juror George Dietz, 54. "Sometimes it got pretty emotional in there between the six of us."
Despite the obstacles, the jury of four men and two women came to a unanimous agreement Monday that Dr. Asuncion Luyao, 64, was guilty of manslaughter, racketeering and five counts of trafficking in oxycodone after 3 1/2 days of deliberating.
In the days after the verdict, jurors began to talk about their experiences.
Early on, the jury decided to take the charges in order, beginning with racketeering and ending with the six manslaughter counts, talking things out on each individual charge before moving on to the next one, said juror Alexandra Sanders, 34.
The manslaughter counts took up a large part of their time, though neither Sanders nor Dietz could recall exactly how much time they spent on each patient's death or what order they discussed them.
"We took each one and just tore them apart," Sanders said. "We were like six college students researching a paper."
Sanders recalls counting pills in bottles at one point and passing around autopsy records, medical charts and pharmacy notes so each could read the evidence and give their opinions. Voices sometimes were raised and arguments did occur, but they worked through their differences, Dietz said.
In the end, the death of Julia Hartsfield, 52, was the only manslaughter charge they felt Luyao was responsible for causing and Dietz said it probably was the one they spent the most time discussing.
Luyao saw Hartsfield longer than any other patient, beginning in December 1996 through her death in March 2001. According to testimony from a prosecution expert who reviewed her files, the doctor gave her ever-increasing doses of painkillers without legitimate reasons noted in the files.
"All the evidence they put before us, it just added up," Sanders said. "On the other five, it wasn't 100 percent. We could only go on the evidence they gave us."
Jurors rejected the defense claim that a heart condition unrelated to Luyao's care killed Hartsfield, but they felt there was reasonable doubt for other patients' deaths.
Dietz specifically recalled that the combination of drugs found in the system of Janice Byers and her history of recreational drug use raised questions about the doctor's culpability. In the case of Bradley Towse, who was released from a Palm Beach Gardens hospital on the morning of his death, Dietz noted the failure of doctors to take blood after he died created doubt in the jury's mind about what killed him.
The drug trafficking counts - based on the work of an undercover agent who visited Luyao's office with phony pain complaints - took less time to reach an agreement on because there was less paperwork and fewer exhibits to sort through. Jurors gave Luyao the benefit of the doubt on the agent's first visit, noting the doctor only gave the man a limited prescription and asked him to come back in two weeks with records, Dietz said.
When the agent brought in irrelevant medical files and the doctor continued to increase prescriptions, jurors felt Luyao crossed the line into drug trafficking, Dietz said.
Prosecutors also introduced Luyao's legal gambling trips to a casino boat in Palm Beach County as a potential motive for her criminal actions, something that did not come in during the first trial. Sanders said it didn't seem like Luyao was losing enough money in gambling for that to matter and both she and Dietz agreed it had little impact in the jury room.
Jurors are not told about the potential penalties a defendant could face - Luyao could spend the rest of her life in prison when she is sentenced in April - and both jurors said they felt sympathy afterward for the families of the deceased patients and for the Luyao family.
Ultimately, they said they couldn't let sympathy play a role in their final decision. By methodically reviewing all the evidence and combing through the files, Sanders said jurors came out of the process feeling that they did as thorough a job as possible.
"The main thing is we wanted to be able to come out of there and sleep at night," she said.