Judge rejects plea deal for hep C surgery tech
Associated Press Writer
DENVER – A surgery technician who infected three dozen people with hepatitis C must decide whether to withdraw her guilty plea, ask for another deal or take her chances with a judge who indicated she could get more than 20 years in prison.
Kristen Diane Parker, 27, accepted a plea agreement in September that stipulated a 20-year sentence.
But U.S. District Judge Robert E. Blackburn rejected the plea agreement Friday, saying it “unreasonably” restricted his sentencing prerogative and didn’t incorporate the positions of the victims, some of whom said it wasn’t enough time.
A status hearing was scheduled for Feb. 5. Parker remains in federal custody.
Parker, who has hepatitis C, acknowledged stealing syringes filled with the painkiller Fentanyl from operating carts at Rose Medical Center in Denver and the Audubon Surgery Center in Colorado Springs.
She told prosecutors in a recorded interview that she injected herself and replaced the stolen syringes with ones filled with saline. Parker said she meant to use clean replacement needles but got careless.
Prosecutors said Parker exposed nearly 6,000 patients at the two hospitals to the incurable blood-borne disease, and about three dozen were infected.
Parker had pleaded guilty to tampering with a consumer product and obtaining a controlled substance by deceit or subterfuge.
Wearing a red jumpsuit Friday, she bounced her knee up and down rapidly under the defense team’s table as Blackburn explained that he would not necessarily sentence her to only 20 years in prison if she still wanted to plead guilty.
Parker could withdraw the guilty plea and go to trial, try to renegotiate a plea deal with prosecutors or proceed with sentencing.
“She’s devastated,” Parker’s attorney Gregory Graf said of his client. “Twenty years is a long time. She has a young child who is going to be an adult in that time.”
Lauren Lollini, a former Rose Medical Center patient whose hepatitis C was linked to Parker, said the judge’s decision was a shock but a pleasant surprise.
“Twenty years isn’t enough,” said Lollini, 41. “Twenty years isn’t even a year for each of her victims.”
Several victims said it was far too easy for Parker to switch the syringes.
“They really don’t want their tragedy to be in vain,” said Hollynd Hoskins, a lawyer who represents 13 victims. “This is a wake-up call to make sure patient safety is a priority. It’s a catalyst for change.”
Parker previously worked in Mount Kisco, N.Y., and in Houston, but health officials there haven’t reported any hepatitis C cases linked to her.
Hepatitis C can cause serious liver problems, including cirrhosis or liver cancer. Symptoms include nausea, diarrhea, fatigue, pain and jaundice.
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