The first trial of its kind in Iowa got underway Wednesday morning in Polk County with opening statements.
Dr. Daniel Baldi is charged with nine counts of involuntary manslaughter in connection with the drug-related deaths of former patients. It is the first time an Iowa doctor has been charged with manslaughter in connection with the death of a patient.
The prosecution says Baldi gave patients what they wanted, not what they needed. They say he ignored the red flags such as patients saying they lost medication and patients abusing their pain contracts and coming into the office on high levels of narcotics.
"He gave patients what they wanted and that was highly, highly reckless for him to do, he gave them what they wanted and as a result of his actions and his staff's actions these nine people are now dead," assistant Polk County attorney Celene Gogerty said.
But the defense claims the patients died from either natural causes or from abusing drugs that were not prescribed by Dr. Baldi. They say in some cases Dr. Baldi didn’t even see the patients for months prior to their death and when he did prescribe medication it was at or below FDA standards.
"These were people with chronic pain, complicated medical issues, multiple medical issues and some with addictions,” Baldi's defense attorney Guy Cook said.
"He did his best to treat these patents and the evidence will show that the prescriptions he provided to these nine patients were at or below the prescribed therapeutic levels that any doctor would prescribe."
The first witness, Corinne Johnson, widow of Jeffery Johnson, says her husband was prescribed fentanyl patches from Dr. Baldi. Patches she said caused lots of side effects.
"He appeared to be in a daze, unfocused, trouble remembering certain basic events," Johnson testified.
At the time of Johnson’s death he was wearing two fentanyl patches, one more than the prescribed amount.
The defense says that prescription did not come from Dr. Baldi.
"Since he passed in May of 2012, three, four, months after you had seen Dr. Baldi, maybe five months, the prescription he had for that fentanyl was not from Dr Baldi was it?” Cook asked.
“No it was not," came Johnson’s reply.
Five more witnesses were called to testify including significant others of several of the deceased patients as well as a couple of first responders who helped set the scene for the jury.
Thursday, the prosecution will continue to call more witnesses to the stand when the trial resumes at 9 a.m.