A lab chief’s sentencing for meningitis deaths is postponed, extending grief of victims’ families

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HOWELL, Mich. (AP) — A Michigan judge on Thursday suddenly postponed the sentencing of a man at the center of a fatal meningitis outbreak that hit multiple states, dismaying people who were poised to speak about their grief 12 years after the tragedy.

The judge who took a no-contest plea from Barry Cadden retired in March. But the defense attorney and the prosecutor said they still expected Michael Hatty would return to impose a minimum 10-year prison sentence for involuntary manslaughter.

Instead, Judge Matthew McGivney inherited the case. He postponed the sentencing until May 10 to clear up the confusion, upsetting many people who were ready to give statements.

A woman cried outside the Livingston County courtroom, 60 miles (96.5 kilometers) northwest of Detroit.

Peggy Nuerenberg, whose 88-year-old mother, Mary Plettl, died after getting a tainted steroid injection for pain, said she was “absolutely blindsided.”

“How things developed today were disrespectful to the victims who worked hard to prepare statements on behalf of their loved one,” Nuerenberg told The Associated Press.

Another knotty issue: McGivney’s wife works for the state attorney general’s office, which is prosecuting Cadden.

“I’m not inclined to disqualify myself,” the judge said.

Michigan is the only state to prosecute Cadden for deaths related to mold-tainted steroids created at New England Compounding Center in Framingham, Massachusetts, and shipped to pain clinics around the country.

More than 700 people in 20 states were sickened with meningitis or other debilitating illnesses and at least 64 died, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Cadden and a key employee at the lab, Glenn Chin, were charged with second-degree murder for 11 of Michigan’s 19 deaths. Cadden recently chose to plead no contest to involuntary manslaughter.

Prosecutors have agreed to a minimum sentence of 10 years of prison. But they also agreed to let the sentence run at the same time as Cadden’s current 14 1/2-year prison term for federal crimes related to the scandal.

That means he is unlikely to face additional time in custody for the Michigan deaths.

“It’s a joke,” said Gene Keyes, whose 79-year-old mother, Sally Roe, died in 2012. “The attorney general said most of the families agreed to it to put this matter behind us. I was one who wanted to go to trial. He’s not going to serve any more time and that’s wrong.”

Keyes said Cadden put “greed over people.”

Compounding pharmacies make versions of medications that often aren’t available through larger drugmakers. But Cadden’s lab was a mess, investigators said, leading to the growth of mold in the manufacturing process.

Chin has not reached a similar plea deal, court filings show, and his trial on 11 second-degree murder charges is pending. Separately, he is serving a 10 1/2-year federal sentence.

Ken Borton survived the tainted steroids but still has chronic problems. Twelve years later, he walks with a cane, stutters with his speech and said he “can’t remember anything.”

“I’ll never be what I used to be,” Borton said outside court.

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Follow Ed White at https://twitter.com/edwritez

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