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VA Court Activity At Standstill

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VA Court Activity At Standstill

By John Barton

DETROIT — Courtroom activity ground to a halt this morning as the final phases of the Ann Arbor VA Hospital murder trial moved behind closed doors.

At issue are ground rules governing testimony of prosecution rebuttal witnesses.

Federal prosecutors were scheduled to call about a dozen witnesses to counter testimony presented by the

But the number of rebuttal witnesses and the scope of their testimony has apparently been severely restricted by U.S. District Court Judge Philip Pratt.

THOSE RESTRICTIONS remained under discussion in Pratt’s chambers by late morning today.

As a result, testimony in the complex trial of Filipina Narciso and Leonora Perez could end today.

Should that occur, final arguments would begin Monday and Pratt could give the case to the jury some time next week.

Perez and Narciso, former nurses at the Fuller Road hospital, are accused of using a muscle-paralyzing drug to poison patients during the summer of 1975.

THEIR TRIAL on charges of conspiracy, murder and poisoning is in its twelfth week.

Pratt reportedly scheduled the in-chambers meeting this morning to allow both sides to hash out procedural problems in presenting testimony by the proposed prosecution witnesses.

So far, the prosecutors have been able to call only four witnesses and lines of questioning have been strictly limited by Pratt’s rulings. The only witness known to be scheduled today is Daniel R. Russo, an FBI agent assigned to the bureau’s Detroit office.

Russo headed the 10-month investigation of mysterious breathing failures and deaths at the hospital which eventually led to the grand jury indictment of Perez and Narciso.

ONE OF THE prosecution’s four rebuttal witnesses called earlier this week, J. Raymond Coghlan, a retired FBI agent, has now been brought to Michigan from his California home three times in the past year to testify in criminal matters.

Until his 1975 retirement, Coghlan was head of the Ann Arbor office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Two weeks before his retirement, his office began an investigation of the VA Hospital poisonings and deaths.

And a month earlier, Coghlan played a key role in the questioning of Ronnie McCullough, a Detroit man, arrested with two other suspects in the murder of Ypsilanti Patrolman Douglas Downing during a bank robbery.

Coghlan was twice flown back to Michigan in 1976 from his retirement home in San Diego during hearings and the trial of McCullough.