Crime & Justice

Tears don't help Rowland Heights doctor charged with murder for patients who overdosed

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A California doctor pleaded not guilty Friday to charges of second-degree murder in the prescription drug overdose deaths of three patients.

Dr. Hsiu-Ying "Lisa" Tseng wept profusely during her arraignment in Superior Court, where a judge decided to keep her in jail in lieu of $3 million bail.

Tseng is charged with 21 other counts of issuing unlawful prescriptions for controlled substances in addition to the deaths involving painkillers.

Her lawyers asked for reduction of bail to $750,000, pointing out that Tseng is the mother of small children and has strong ties to her community of Rowland Heights, where she and her husband maintained a storefront medical clinic.

"We are asking the court to allow her to be a mother during the pendency of this case," said attorney T. Edward Welbourn.

Prosecution documents opposing bail reduction were filed with the judge under seal.

Murder charges against physicians in drug overdose cases are extremely rare. But Superior Court Judge Shelly Torrealba said she was treating Tseng the same as any other murder defendant.

"Three people are dead," she said. "For consideration of bail, I have to presume the allegations are true."

The Drug Enforcement Administration says Tseng wrote more than 27,000 prescriptions over a three-year period starting in January 2007 — an average of 25 a day. The three patients who died were otherwise healthy men in their 20s who came to her with complaints of pain and anxiety.

After conferring with his obviously distraught client, Welbourn sought a speedy preliminary hearing, but the earliest date available was April 30.

He told the judge there may be jurisdictional problems in the case because the men died in three different locations — Orange and Riverside counties in California and Maricopa County, Arizona. Charges were filed in Los Angeles County because that is where the prescriptions were issued.