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VA Victim's Sister Points Out One Suspect

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VA Victim’s Sister Points Out One Suspect

By John Barton

DETROIT — An Ypsilanti woman Friday pointed out Leonora Perez as a nurse she saw in her brother’s room at the Ann Arbor Veterans Administration Hospital moments before he suffered a near-fatal breathing failure.

Betty Jean Barnett, testifying in pretrial hearings on the VA Hospital mass murder case, said she left her brother’s third-floor hospital room while Perez “untangled” intravenous feeding tubes dripping medication and nutrients into the body of her seriously ill brother, Benny Blaine.

Seconds after she left she saw two doctors walk to his room on their regular rounds. Moments later Blaine suddenly stopped breathing.

Federal prosecutors hope to prove that Perez was the only person who could have given Blaine a near-fatal injection of a muscle relaxing drug, Pavulon.

Blaine survived the alleged attack on his life, but he died 13 days later of internal bleeding arid other complications, according to his death certificate. Blaine, a life-long Ypsilanti resident, was 46 years old.

Perez is a 32-year-old mother of two sons who lives with her husband and relatives in Ann Arbor. She and another former nurse at the VA Hospital’s Intensive care unit, Filipina Narciso, 30, of Ypsilanti, are accused of poisoning Blaine and seven other veterans during July and August, 1975 by injecting Pavulon into the men's intravenous tubes.

The incident Barnett described in court Friday occurred Aug. 15, 1975, the same night two other third-floor patients experienced what federal prosecutors say were drug-induced breathing failures. All three men were stricken within a 45-minute period.

Laboratory analysis of blood and urine samples taken from the bodies of two men stricken that night confirmed the presence; of Pavulon, drug which was not prescribed for routine treatment of either men’s ailments.

But laboratory technicians were unable to find the drug in fluids taken from Blaine’s body shortly after he was revived, according to sources familiar with the investigation.

Pavulon leaves breathing and skeletal muscles completely limp. Unless someone given the drug is connected to a breathing machine, he will suffocate within minutes.

All of Friday’s testimony came in pretrial hearings on defense motions to prevent Barnett and other key prosecution witnesses from testifying at the upcoming trial.

U.S. District Court Judge Philip Pratt, who has presided over the lengthy hearings which started early last month, has set March 1 as the day the trial will begin.

The trial, in which over 150 witnesses are to testify for the prosecution alone, could last four to six months.

On Monday defense attorneys are to present closing arguments on their pretrial motions.

It was also learned the defense lawyers plan to introduce two more motions on Monday. One motion asks Pratt to strike two counts from a far-reaching conspiracy charge contained in the 11-count grand jury indictment of the two women.

The second motion asks Pratt to dismiss the entire indictment because the grand jury does not represent a true cross section of the community.