Judge OKs trial for Illinois paramedics in patient Earl Moore’s death
SPRINGFIELD, Illinois — Two Illinois paramedics should be tried for first-degree murder after a patient they strapped face-down to a stretcher suffocated, a judge ruled Friday.
Peggy Finley and Peter Cadigan are charged in the December death of 35-year-old Earl Moore in Springfield. They pleaded not guilty Friday and are being held in the Sangamon County Jail on $1 million bail each.
If convicted, Finley, 44, and Cadigan, 50, each face 20 to 60 years in prison. Sangamon County Circuit Court Judge Raylene Grischow issued her decision after a contentious 3 1/2 hour preliminary hearing.
Springfield police first responded to Moore’s home around 2 a.m. on December 18. Police body camera video shows a woman inside the house telling an officer that Moore was in alcohol withdrawal and was having hallucinations.
Finley and Cadigan were called into the apartment. Body camera video shows the officers attempting to get Moore to his feet to walk out the door for medical assistance, then place him prone on the gurney. Cadigan, a paramedic, strapped him in while Finley, a paramedic, placed a blanket over him.
Finley later told hospital officials and an investigator that Moore had been combative.
An autopsy found that Moore died of “positional asphyxiation” and that he had two broken ribs, which prosecutor Dan Wright attributed during Friday’s hearing to Moore being strapped face down so tightly.
“There is no medical reason to transport someone in a prone position,” Wright said.
Referring to the video, Wright continued, “Mr. Moore is clearly not combative. He was the complete opposite of combative. He needed help. That they protect themselves by telling the hospital staff he was combative adds to their credibility.”
“If this goes to trial, the state has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that when they put him on the stretcher they thought, ‘I think I’ll kill him,'” said Justin Kuehn, one of Cadigan’s attorneys. “Were their actions reckless? That’s for another day.”
As the defendants entered the courtroom, Finley saw seven family members sitting in the front row. She took a seat at the defense table and looked at her family with tears on her face and said, “I’m sorry.”
Family members declined to comment to The Associated Press.
Under Illinois law, a charge of first-degree murder applies when a defendant “knows that such acts create a high probability of death or serious bodily harm.” Experts have said it’s rare for emergency medical professionals to be prosecuted when a patient dies.
Friday’s hearing was riddled with objections, mostly from defense attorneys who claimed that Wright’s questioning of lone witness Sgt. Zachary Weisahaar, an Illinois State Police investigator.
Finley and Cadigan told Weisahaar that Moore had been combative. Cadigan said he based that conclusion on seeing Moore thrashing about and a police officer leaping out of the way, Weisahaar said.
Bodycam footage showed that Moore was unable or unwilling to stand on his own, and at times thrashed about. His blood alcohol level was 0.077, which is just under the Illinois driving limit of 0.08. After entering the apartment, Finley yelled at Moore to get up.
Weisahaar said Finley told him she monitored Moore’s vital signs on the way to HSHS St John’s Hospital. But Wright played a recording of Finley’s call to the court to notify the hospital of her arrival, in which she said, “I’m not messing with vital signs because I don’t want to poke the bear.”
Both Finley and Cadigan had sufficient training and knowledge to know that Moore’s position was damaging, Weisahaar testified. He said Cadigan told him that in 20 years he had never been told it was dangerous to put a patient in the prone position.
Weisahaar also said he learned Cadigan had attended two training sessions just last year where the trainer insisted the prone warning be emphasized.
Another Cadigan attorney, Edward Unsell, said it was more likely that the broken ribs Moore suffered were a result of hospital staff’s attempts to revive him.
Finley’s attorney, W. Scott Hanken, said the charges were unjustified.
“There are two places – civil and criminal. We’re in the wrong place,” Hanken said. “They haven’t heard a shred of evidence leading to accountability.”
Her next court date is February 6. Her lawyers say they will seek her release on the basis of personal recognition.
Moore’s family announced Thursday that they have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Finley, Cadigan and their employer, LifeStar Ambulance Service.