Wilford Hall

  • Michael Fontana acquitted of murder

    Michael FontanaThe Air Force nurse accused of killing three civilian patients at Wilford Hall Medical Center in San Antonio was acquitted Saturday of murder charges. Scott Huddleston writes:

    In a swift verdict Saturday, a military judge acquitted Capt. Michael Fontana, an Air Force nurse being tried on charges of murdering three patients.

    “Capt. Fontana, this court finds you, of all charges and specifications, not guilty,” Col. William Burd announced soon after closing arguments in a five-day court-martial at Lackland AFB.

    The verdict ended a nearly 16-month ordeal for Fontana, 36, who works at Wilford Hall Medical Center, the Air Force’s largest hospital.

    Fontana said he never dishonored “my God, my country, my family or my patients’ families.”

    WOAI interviewed the husband of Dorothy Gray, a stroke victim treated by Fontana, and he was angered by the verdict.

    The case involved three patients treated by Fontana. But only Gray was the alleged victim of a homicide, according to an autopsy report by the Bexar County Medical Examiner. The Air Force pressed forward with murder charges for all three patients, which opened the door to testimony from other family members. The daughter-in-law of one patient supported Fontana, according to this KENS story.

    Here’s what Fontana’s defense team argued:

    Fontana’s defense team and expert witnesses challenged whether the pain-killing drugs caused the patients’ deaths, saying the case was circumstantial.

    They criticized doctors’ medication orders as unclear and questioned the decision by the staff, in consultation with family members, to remove Gray from a ventilator without giving her time to recover.

    Fontana’s civilian lawyers, Carol Birch and Elizabeth Higginbotham, said the wing commander, Maj. Gen. Tom Travis, should have continued the internal evaluation of records and medical evidence, rather than putting their client through a lengthy criminal process.

    “He should have asked, and he should have reviewed it,” Birch said.

    Travis had no comment after the verdict beyond a statement from the Wilford Hall’s 59th Medical Wing, which stated that “our medical professionals had reason to believe that criminal conduct had occurred.”

    Here’s my first blog post that links to past coverage of the case. There are also links to primary documents, such as the summary of Gray’s autopsy report, and an investigative report about her death.

  • Trial begins in case of Michael Fontana

    Michael FontanaScott Huddleston is covering the trial of Air Force Capt. Michael Fontana, a nurse at Wilford Hall Medical Center accused of killing three civilian patients under his care.

    Scott and I wrote about the case when the Air Force announced Fontana was a suspect. Here’s a primer on the case with our past stories and other media coverage.

  • Military hearing begins for Wilford Hall nurse Michael Fontana

    Michael FontanaExpress-News Reporter Scott Huddleston is covering the Article 32 military hearing of Capt. Michael Fontana, a nurse at Wilford Hall who is accused of killing three civilian patients under his care.

    I had helped Scott cover this story when Fontana was originally charged and we learned the Bexar County Medical Examiner had performed autopsies and toxicology tests on the patients Fontana was suspected of killing. But this hearing, which is similar to a grand jury proceeding, is the first time the public has been able to learn many of the specific details of the case.

    To get more perspective on the hearing, which is supposed to conclude today, here are some stories from other media outlets:

  • The Austin American-Statesman;
  • WOAI;
  • And an Associated Press story posted on the Air Force Times.
  • UPDATE: Here’s Scott’s story about the second and final day of the military hearing:

    Michael Shiels said he left his patient for a 15-minute lunch break.

    When he returned, Silvestre Orosco, an 83-year-old World War II veteran, had stopped breathing and “was basically dead,” his devastated family members standing by helplessly.

    It wasn’t until more than two months later, when other suspicious deaths of terminally ill patients surfaced at Wilford Hall Medical Center, that Shiels, a civilian nurse, thought Capt. Michael Fontana might have been responsible for Orosco’s death on June 1, 2008.

    “I unfortunately didn’t think much of it at the time,” he testified in an Article 32 hearing that ended Thursday.

  • A primer on Michael Fontana, a nurse accused of killing three patients

    Michael FontanaLast week military reporter Scott Huddleston and I covered the story of Capt. Michael Fontana, a nurse who has been charged by the Air Force of killing three patients at Wilford Hall Medical Center in San Antonio.

    This is Military City, USA, and there’s lots of interest in the case and concern about it. Here are links to official sources, and stories by the San Antonio Express-News and other media:

  • The Air Force issued a press release announcing the charges against Fontana. At this point, this is the only document about the case that has been released by the military.

  • This is our first story about the patient deaths and the charges against Fontana. “As far as we can tell, he’s been an exemplary nurse,” said Dave Smith, public affairs chief for the Air Education and Training Command at Randolph AFB.

  • This story by the Austin American-Statesman detailed the case and disclosed Fontana’s past job as a paramedic in Austin, where he didn’t generate any complaints.

  • Our follow-up story identified one of the likely patients who had been treated by Fontana. Her name was Dorothy Gray, a 74-year-old stroke victim from Natalia, Texas. According to an autopsy report, Gray died from “intoxication” of morphine, a painkiller, and lorazepam, a sleep-aid, which caused complications to Gray’s health and led to her death.

    The story was based on an autopsy report and an investigation report by the Bexar County Medical Examiner’s office. Gray’s death was ruled a homicide.

    Gray’s family declined to be interviewed. Her obituary described her as a charming woman who wasn’t originally from Texas, but who often said she got here as fast as she could.

  • A story by WOAI followed up our article by interviewing residents in Natalia who knew Dorothy Gray.

  • A story by the Austin American-Statesman delved deeper into Fontana’s work history and found numerous commendations for his past efforts to save his patients.
  • I’ll post more links in the coming weeks. Feel free to contact me if you have information about the case.