Med-mal trial against Memorial Hermann ends in mistrial

David Yates Jun. 2, 2008, 9:18am

After deliberating for three days, jurors failed to decide whether Connie Woods doused her feet with flesh-eating chemicals while under the care of Memorial Hermann Baptist Hospital Beaumont or prior to being committed, as the three-week long trial ended in mistrial.

A Jefferson County court coordinator said it was a hung jury and a new trail will be slated sometime in the near future. Jurors began deliberating on May 27 and by May 29 realized they were never going to see eye-to-eye.

Suffering from delusions and hearing commands from God, Woods burned her own feet with chemicals.

On Dec. 14, 2002, encircled by church friends and family, Connie Woods' husband prayed aloud for his mentally ill wife and then touched her feet - sending Woods into an untamable fit, according to testimony offered by Wood's friend and minister, Joey Duhon.

During the trial, Duhon testified she was summoned to the couple's home after Jeff Woods became concerned about his wife's declining mental condition. The associate pastor of Community Church said Jeff told her Connie had not been eating, bathing or tending to her personal hygiene. Connie Woods had also told her husband that in a dream God had spoken to her and told her she would be called to heaven on Christmas Day.

Duhon, Jeff Woods and other church members took Connie into a bedroom and began praying with her. Duhon testified that Jeff Woods touched his wife as he prayed, and when he touched her feet Connie Woods began screaming and broke away from the prayer group. The woman ran out of the house and collapsed in a nearby ditch, Duhon said.

Woods was then taken to the emergency room at Memorial Hermann's facility in Orange and later released. On Dec. 15, 2002, when her mental condition again deteriorated, Connie Woods was committed to the Fannin Pavilion, the psychiatric unit of Memorial Hermann Baptist Beaumont.

A nurse testified that three days later she found Woods in the bathtub with a washcloth draped over her feet. Upon removal of the cloth, the nurse discovered that Woods' feet were black and severely swollen. It was determined that the woman had 4th-degree burns on her feet caused by an alkaline-based cleaning product. The wounds were so severe that the flesh on Woods' feet had to be scraped off.

Nurses testified that it was unlikely the incident occurred at the hospital because no trace of the chemicals was found in Woods' bathroom and all of the hospital's cleaning supplies were locked in a closet.

However, plaintiff's attorney Gary Cornwell argued that the hospital could have been stripping the floors the night of Woods' incident and that she could have accessed the chemicals when no one was watching her.

In his opening remarks, defense attorney James Old Jr. said that when Woods was first admitted, she was wearing thick socks and leather boots. Hospital personnel attempted to strip them off for an examination, but a combative Woods thwarted their treatment.

Hospital staff testified that Woods was kept under tight surveillance and in a locked room.

Old argued that the alkali would have taken several days to develop into burns as severe as Woods', and that if she had hurt herself while at the hospital the wounds would have been only in the beginning stages.

Cornwell countered Old's argument by saying Wood's socks and hospital-issued booties were laced with the chemicals, but not the leather boots she was wearing at admission, suggesting she poured alkaline on herself while at the hospital.

Testimony from Dr. Wolfe, the physician who mended Woods' feet, revealed her injuries could have occurred anywhere between seven days or 14 hours before he saw her on Dec. 19, 2002 - four days after she was admitted.

Dr. Wolfe testified that he could not rule out the possibility that her injuries occurred before she was admitted to the hospital.

Old said that because her nerve endings had been destroyed by the alkaline, Woods would not have complained of pain to hospital staff.

Dr. Wolfe also testified that the burn patterns on her feet suggest Woods submerged her feet in the chemical rather than pouring the hazardous substance on herself.

Case No. B169-579

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