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Prosecutor: Hepatitis case charges could be upgraded if a victim dies

New Hampshire Union Leader

December 03. 2012 8:47PM

CONCORD - Although he faces 14 federal charges stemming from the outbreak of hepatitis C at Exeter Hospital, medical technician David Kwiatkowski will face a more serious charge if one of his alleged victims should die of complications related to the disease, a federal prosecutor said.

"There would be circumstances that would change the complexity of the case," said John Kacavas, U.S. Attorney for New Hampshire, whose office is prosecuting the Kwiatkowski case.

Kwiatkowski appeared in a federal courtroom in Concord Monday for an arraignment on 14 charges - seven of tampering with a consumer product and seven of fraudulently obtaining the controlled substance fentanyl.

The former medical technician is believed responsible for infecting more than 30 patients in New Hampshire and elsewhere with hepatitis C through contaminated syringes. He is charged with injecting himself with the fentanyl in syringes prepared for patients, filling them with saline and then returning the syringes for patient use.

The blood-borne virus can cause chronic liver disease.

The federal charges involve seven patients and seven particular dates, but Kacavas said the investigation into Kwiatkowski continues, and he did not rule out further charges. If Kwiatkowski is found guilty, the judge could take all of his actions into account, Kacavas said.

Federal magistrate Landya McCafferty approved Kwiatkowski's application for appointed counsel and named federal public defender Bjorn Lange his counsel. While McCafferty set a trial for the week of Feb. 5, Kacavas said it will likely be postponed to a later date.

"This is obviously a very complex matter. It will require an extended period of time for defense counsel to get up to speed on discovery," Kacavas said. He said the evidence includes epidemiological studies and genetic sequencing, and experts will likely be called to testify at trial.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys will next meet with the judge picked for the trial - District Court Judge Joseph Laplante - to work out a schedule involving pretrial motions and hearings. Prosecutors expect a trial to take about three weeks once it begins.

Kwiatkowski, 33, sat at a defense table with his lawyers Monday and offered brief answers to McCafferty's questions. His hair was shorn short, and he had trimmed whiskers along his chin. He wore a shirt marked with the name of the Strafford County House of Correction, where he has been held since his arrest in July. He waived his right to a hearing that could have led to his pre-trial release.

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