Anne Arundel County prosecutors dropped yesterday the most serious charge against a pharmacist accused of accidentally drugging with morphine three newborns at Anne Arundel Medical Center last winter, saying it was too difficult to prove.
"We had reached the point of diminishing returns," said Michael Bergeson, an assistant state's attorney. "It's clearly negligence . . . but that would have been hard to show."
Susan E. Kron, the pharmacist, had been charged with reckless endangerment, which carries a five-year prison sentence and a $5,000 fine, and practicing without a license. Her trial on the criminal charges was to start yesterday.
Instead, Anne Arundel Circuit Judge Raymond G. Thieme Jr., heard arguments over whether Ms. Kron should be punished for working after her license expired.
Her lawyer, T. Joseph Touhey, acknowledged that Ms. Kron's license was four months out of date at the time of the incident Jan. 31, but said the state cannot prove she intentionally failed to renew it.
"The case is over with," Mr. Touhey said after the trial. "All that's left is this licensure issue . . . and that is not a crime."
Judge Thieme is to rule on the licensing charge Aug. 14. The charge carries a maximum penalty of one year in jail and $1,000 fine.
Prosecutors had charged that Ms. Kron accidentally filled at least six syringes with morphine instead of heparin, a solution used to flush intravenous tubes, prompting the incident in which three newborns suffered breathing problems and were placed on ventilators in the Annapolis hospital's critical-care nursery.
The newborns all were sent home in the weeks after the incident.
Yesterday, the parents of the drugged infants sat in the back of the courtroom. They made no comments, but one of the mothers, Jeanean Thompson, could barely contain her anger when she saw Ms. Kron outside the courtroom. Ms. Thompson rushed toward the pharmacist as she stopped to get a drink of water.
"You almost killed my baby!" Ms. Thompson hissed, pushing her face within inches of Ms. Kron's. Ms. Kron looked stunned and said nothing as her lawyer grabbed her elbow and motioned her through the wooden double doors into the courtroom.
After the hearing, Ms. Kron said her work "was my whole life."
"It gave me the opportunity to get outside myself, my own life, by doing for other people," she said, her voice trembling and her eyes filling with tears. "I was there 100 percent, and I don't see how I could have done better, frankly. I've been very proud of what I've done. I don't have any regrets."
Ms. Kron had worked at the Annapolis hospital since 1986, the last two years on the night shift. She has been out of work since the hospital fired her in February. She applied to renew her pharmacist's license in March, but said she has no plans to continue working in the state.
Mr. Touhey said the state never produced even one drug-laced vial to prove Ms. Kron's guilt. He accused the state's attorney's office of "prosecution by press release" and said the only reason prosecutors filed charges was to get publicity in the high-profile case.
Proving the case would have been complicated and expensive. Prosecutors said they would have had to bring in witnesses from seven medical labs across the country to testify about the babies' opiate laced urine samples, Mr. Bergeson said. And even with that evidence in hand, he could not count on a conviction.
"It would have been a tough call for the judge," he said.