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Cancer doctor pleads for dose of mercy from judge

Laura Berman
The Detroit News

In the penultimate moments of Dr. Farid Fata's sentencing hearing, the concept of mercy was under discussion.

Defense lawyer Christopher Andreoff pleaded for mercy for his client, citing lawyer Clarence Darrow's courtroom assertion in a 1924 murder case: "All life is worth saving and ... mercy is the highest attribute of man," an argument that justice should be tempered with mercy.

Over four days, Fata sat with defense counsel in a federal courtroom, expressionless and often motionless. On Wednesday, over almost four hours of victim statements, heart-wrenching accounts of excruciating physical pain, he glanced twice at his accusers, looking away quickly.

Few, if any, victims or family members or even members of the media expected him to speak. What, most wondered, might he possibly say after admitting that he had deliberately ordered chemical poison dripped into his patient victims at doses too low, too high, too long. Surely he would sit, inert, hands nearly still, icy calm to the end.

Yet he did speak. When he approached the microphone before federal Judge Paul D. Borman, the mask collapsed, and he wept openly, his words muffled, his voice cracked and high-pitched in despair. "I hold this court to the highest degree of respect and integrity and I ask the court for mercy," he said. "Please accept my pride, my shame, my hope for true salvation."

While he spoke, Maggie Dorsey was listening. She is the former Fata patient who wears gloves to protect her hands from the pain of touching anything, even her husband, her children. On the medical charts, this is called neuropathy, nerve damage, caused by chemotherapy. She experiences it with less clinical detachment, as the pain of a thousand bee stings.

On Wednesday, with her daughter standing beside her for physical and emotional support, she remembered asking Fata to stop treatment. "I asked him for mercy and he showed my family none," she said. Others that day recalled pleading with Fata for mercy, for relief from the torture of chemotherapy wreaking havoc on their bodies. Instead, they'd been tough, strong, able to endure what needed to be endured. They too hoped for mercy, finding none.

In the court's overflow room, 24-year-old Karlene Foisy was wearing a back brace, the result of her third spinal surgery, tearful at the thought of his desire for a 25-year sentence for his crimes. She had given up a full athletic scholarship at Wayne State when his enthusiasm for endless hours of iron infusions resulted in a spinal staph infection.

"He is 50 and he wants a 25-year sentence. I haven't yet had 25 years to live," she explained, through her tears.

What so many victims, what the Justice Department wanted, was to give Fata a life with no hope, no possibility of redemption. They wanted his case to stand as a fearsome example of potential punishment to any physician who might dare consider violating his oath to do no harm with the cool calculation of a Fata.

But the judge decided otherwise. "My role is to impose a sentence sufficient but not greater than necessary," Borman said, quoting the U.S. criminal code, acknowledging "a huge, horrific series of criminal acts" committed by Fata, crimes he also called "horrific and unprecedented." By imposing a sentence of 45 years, he disappointed most of the patients and their families, prosecutors who wanted life or 175 years in prison.

The judge offered Fata a feather-stroke of hope that he might, one day, walk out of prison rather than, as his lawyer suggested, be carried out in a box. He calmly offered Fata mercy and with it, enough reason for him to live and seek anew a constructive purpose.

He offered Fata the chance to live again as a man or to prove anew that he is a man who can neither give nor benefit from mercy. In a way, the sentence is a challenge to us all.


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