Pubdate: Sat, 29 Apr 2006
Source: Press Journal  (Vero Beach, FL)
Copyright: 2006, The E.W. Scripps Co.
Author: Derek Simmonsen


FORT PIERCE -- Asuncion Luyao has remained quiet through two trials,
but with the possibility of spending the rest of her life in prison
before her, the former Port St. Lucie doctor broke her silence Friday.

"I'm saddened by the fact that those that I tried to help so hard, to
improve their lives, to reduce their suffering, turn against me and
make me look like the devil," said Luyao, 64. "What I have done for 25
years in this country, I only did to help people ... for all those
that needed me, I was there for them."

Senior Circuit Judge Dwight Geiger sentenced her to 50 years in prison
after she was found guilty by a jury last month of racketeering, five
counts of trafficking in oxycodone and manslaughter in the death of
one of her patients. She also was ordered to pay $1.3 million in fines
on the trafficking charges.

"I'm disappointed that it was not the barest minimum," said defense
attorney Joel Hirschhorn. "It's a death penalty for her because she's
64 years old ... I think she's in a state of shock, understandably

The lone death jurors found she caused was that of longtime patient
Julia Hartsfield, 52, who died March 3, 2001, of a methadone and
alprazolam drug overdose. Husband Robert Hartsfield was in court, but
did not wish to address the judge and left immediately after sentencing.

Connie Velie, who lost daughter Tina Smith, 27, and son Frank "Tony"
Barnard Jr., 26, to drug overdoses, did speak. While Luyao was not
charged in Barnard's death and was acquitted by the jury in Smith's,
she still felt Luyao's care was a contributing factor.

"I feel that she should get the most that you can give her," Velie
told the judge. "I have two children, your honor, that I'll never see
again .. the only way I get to see them is at the graveyard."

Assistant State Attorney Erin Kirkwood asked the judge for a 60-year
sentence, while Hirschhorn urged him to impose the 25-year minimum.
While not absolving drug addicts of personal responsibility, Kirkwood
said Luyao was "flooding the streets of the Treasure Coast" with
prescription pills.

"This defendant fed their addictions with doses and amounts that are
unattainable on the streets," Kirkwood said. "It became more apparent
when she was shut down ... the time has come now for her to be punished."

Hirschhorn read from several letters written in support of the doctor,
including from the head of the local Filipino-American association,
another doctor and former patients. They described her as a
compassionate physician, a doctor who made house calls and treated
patients like friends, and a caring person.

Her trusting nature was ultimately her downfall, as it led patients to
manipulate her, family members said. They declined to speak after sentencing.

"I know she is a trusting person and that is probably her biggest
mistake. She trusts people," said Luyao's sister, Erlinda Nunn. "She
helps people. She doesn't think of herself, she thinks of her patients."

Jurors acquitted her of five other counts of manslaughter and another
count of trafficking in oxycodone at trial. Her first trial ended in a
hung jury last June and her second trial, which began in February and
ended in early March, lasted about a month.

Luyao's medical license was suspended after her arrest and it now is
"null and void," according to state health records, meaning she has
failed to renew the license for two renewal cycles.

At trial, prosecutors argued Luyao's negligent care caused patient
overdoses and her Port St. Lucie medical practice was a criminal
operation that freely dispensed powerful painkillers with few exams or
diagnostic tests. The defense countered that other factors, not
Luyao's care, caused the deaths and she broke no laws in treatment of

Geiger denied defense motions for an acquittal on all charges and for
a new trial. Hirschhorn argued that evidence introduced about gambling
trips Luyao made to Palm Beach County was prejudicial and not relevant
at trial.

Her family is "penniless" as a result of the case, Hirschhorn said,
and the judge said she qualified for a public defender for her appeal.

Geiger allowed her to visit briefly with her family members, one at a
time, after sentencing before she was returned to the jail.

What Happened

Asuncion Luyao was sentenced Friday to 50 years in prison on charges
of racketeering, trafficking in oxycodone and manslaughter in the
death of one of her patients.

What's Next

She will remain in prison while appealing her case, as she does not
qualify for an appeal bond.

The Case:

Dec. 6, 2001: A search warrant is served at Dr. Asuncion Luyao's
office in Port St. Lucie after a six-month investigation reveals
"tremendous" amounts of painkiller prescriptions being written. March
26, 2002: Luyao is arrested on drug trafficking, racketeering and
Medicaid fraud charges, which are later dropped. The state Department
of Health suspends her medical license, citing complaints that drugs
she prescribed contributed to patient deaths.

June 24, 2002: Luyao is arrested again on four counts of manslaughter
in connection with the deaths of patients and freed again on bond. Two
more charges of manslaughter are later added.

May 9, 2005: Jury selection begins in her first trial.

June 3, 2005: Mistrial declared after jurors can't agree on a verdict
on any of the charges.

Feb. 7, 2006: Jury selection begins in the retrial.

March 6, 2006: She is found guilty of manslaughter, trafficking in
oxycodone and racketeering after about 3 1/2 days of

April 28, 2006: Luyao is sentenced to 50 years in prison.

About Asuncion Luyao Luyao was born in the Philippines and graduated
from the University of Santo Tomas in 1965 before performing her
internship and residency in New York. She practiced medicine in New
York for 10 years before coming to Port St. Lucie, where she became a
citizen in 1991 and had been practicing medicine for more than two
decades when she was arrested.

She didn't know her husband before they were wed as part of an
arranged marriage, and they have been together for 40 years, according
to her defense attorney. She has four children, some of whom were with
her in court, and four grandchildren. 
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