Henry G. Dela Torre, 70, was charged with two felony counts each of administration of controlled substance by practitioner, and submitting claim or referring improper service, as well as two misdemeanor counts of giving controlled substance to dependent person, and recklessly endangering another person in February of 2018.
The charges were the result of an investigation into the overdose death of a Punxsutawney woman on Aug. 21, 2016.
Chris Mohney, attorney for Dela Torre, told President Judge Fredric J. Ammerman that the “significant press” coverage on the case has tainted the potential jury pool.
Mohney argued that several articles have had headlines linking an overdose death to him when he is not charged with a crime for the actual death.
Assistant Attorney General Edward Song, who is represented the commonwealth, countered this by noting that three of the articles in question explain that the charges are the result of an investigation into the death and do not indicate he caused it.
The initial articles were from March of 2018 when the charges were filed and should have a limited effect on the jury pool, he said.
Mohney then stated the headlines are enough to taint a person’s perception of the case.
Stating that this type of coverage is standard due to the nature of the allegations, Ammerman said he would handle this the way he has handled such requests in the past, by attempting to pick an unbiased jury and seeing if there are enough people who do not know about the case.
“Over the years, we never once had problems picking a jury,” he commented, adding that if it is a problem, Mohney can re-file the motion. He then dismissed it.
The case is scheduled for jury selection in October and for trial on Dec. 16 through Dec. 20.
An additional motion filed by the defense involves the overdose death.
Defense attorney, Taylor Johnston, noted again that Dela Torre is not charged with causing the death and asked that the prosecution not mention them during the trial. He claimed it is not relevant and there is no autopsy information to tie his client to the death.
Song responded that the absence of testimony regarding where the victims are, would “be more confusing” to a jury then mentioning their deaths.
He also stated that it would be difficult to testify about the investigation without mentioning what happened to them.
Mohney argued that what happened after they were prescribed the drugs is “irrelevant” regarding the current charges.
“The jury will not be able to ignore the fact that she is dead,” he said, which would impact them and distract them from focusing on the actual charges.
Song again stated that the events are “so intertwined” that they could not prosecute the case without this information.
Ammerman gave the defense until Sept. 6 to submit briefs on this issue, after which the commonwealth has until Sept. 12 to respond.
The affidavit of probable cause in this case details how police responding to the scene of an overdose noticed several prescription bottles with the victim’s name that had been prescribed by Dr. Dela Torre.
This included a bottle filled on Aug. 19, 2016 that originally contained 84 Oxycodone tablets. Reportedly only 20 tablets remained in the bottle.
On Sept. 30, 2016, the victim’s brother also overdosed, but he was able to be revived after medics administered Narcan to him, police said.
His mother told investigators that he had several prescriptions from Dela Torre.
When Dela Torre was questioned he said he warned her about using certain medications together including Suboxone and Clonazepam.
But he continued to prescribe them, according to a doctor reviewing the victim’s medical records.
It was also noted that Dela Torre was aware she was taking Oxycodone stolen from someone else.
The conclusion in the affidavit states that Dela Torre’s treatment of the victim “fell outside the accepted treatment practices of any responsible segment of the medical community and was not in good faith.”
The same was determined to be the case in his treatment of the second victim.
Both victims were enrolled in the PA Medical Assistance Program and the loss to that program in this case is $787.74, according to the report.
The case was originally filed in Jefferson County but was transferred to Clearfield County because Dela Torre’s office was in DuBois.