Judge approves trial of Illinois paramedics over patient’s death

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) – Two Illinois emergency medical professionals must be tried on charges of first-degree murder after a patient they strapped facedown to a gurney suffocated, a judge ruled Friday.

Peggy Finley and Peter Cadigan are charged in the December death of 35-year-old Earl Moore in Springfield. They pleaded not guilty on Friday and are being held at the Sangamon County Jail on $1 million each.

If convicted, Finley, 44, and Cadigan, 50, face between 20 and 60 years in prison each. Sangamon County Court Judge Raylene Grischow issued her ruling after a contentious 3.5-hour preliminary hearing.

Springfield Police first responded to Moore’s home around 2:00 am on December 18. Police body camera video shows that a woman inside the house told a police officer that Moore was in withdrawal from alcohol and hallucinations.

Finley and Cadigan were called to the apartment. Body cam video shows the officers trying to get Moore to get up to walk out the door to get medical assistance, then place him face down on the gurney. Cadigan, an emergency medical technician, tied him up while Finley, an EMT, placed a blanket over him.

Later, Finley told hospital officials and an investigator that Moore had been combative.

An autopsy revealed that Moore died of “positional asphyxiation” and that he had two broken ribs, which State Attorney Dan Wright attributed during Friday’s hearing to the fact that Moore was tied so tightly on his stomach.

“There is no medical reason to transport someone in a prone position,” Wright said.

Referring to the video, Wright continued: “Clearly, Mr. Moore is not combative. He was the complete opposite of combative. He needed help. For them to protect themselves by telling hospital staff he was combative goes to their credibility.”

“If this goes to trial, the state will have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that when they put him on the stretcher, they thought to themselves, ‘I think I’m killing him,’” said Justin Kuehn, one of Cadigan’s attorneys. “Were their actions reckless? That’s for another day.”

As the defendants entered the courtroom, Finley saw seven family members sitting in the front row. She sat at the defense table and, with tears streaming down her face, looked at her family and muttered, “I’m sorry.”

Family members declined to comment for the Associated Press.

Under Illinois law, a charge of first-degree murder applies when a defendant “knows that such acts create a strong likelihood of death or grievous bodily harm.” Experts said it is rare for emergency medical providers to face criminal charges over a patient’s death.

Friday’s hearing was filled with objections, most notably from defense attorneys who claimed that Wright was creating testimony by questioning the only witness, Sgt. Zachary Weisahaar, an Illinois State Police investigator.

Finley and Cadigan told Weisahaar that Moore had been combative. Cadigan said he based that conclusion on seeing Moore struggling and a police officer jump out of the way, Weisahaar said.

Bodycam footage showed Moore unable or unwilling to stand on his own, and sometimes struggling. His blood alcohol level was 0.077, just below the Illinois legal driving limit of 0.08. After entering the apartment, Finley yelled at Moore to get up.

Weisahaar said Finley told him he monitored Moore’s vitals on the way to HSHS St. Louis Hospital. John. But Wright produced a recording of Finley’s call to alert the hospital of their arrival to the court, in which she said: “I’m not messing with the vitals because I don’t want to poke the bear.”

Both Finley and Cadigan had enough training and knowledge to know that Moore’s position was detrimental, Weisahaar testified. He said that Cadigan told him that in 20 years, he had never been instructed that putting a patient in a prone position was dangerous.

Weisahaar also said he learned that Cadigan had attended two training sessions in the past year where the instructor insisted on emphasizing the warning against prone positions.

Another Cadigan attorney, Edward Unsell, said it was more likely that Moore’s broken ribs were the result of hospital workers trying to resuscitate him.

Finley’s attorney, W. Scott Hanken, said the charges are unwarranted.

“There are two jurisdictions – civil and criminal. We’re in the wrong place,” Hanken said. “You haven’t heard a shred of evidence that goes to accountability.”

The next court date is February 6th. His lawyers say they will seek his release on personal bail.

Moore’s family announced Thursday that they have filed a wrongful death lawsuit. against Finley, Cadigan and his employer, LifeStar Ambulance Service.


Foody reported from Chicago.

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