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Doctor Cleared in Reggie Lewis Case

Updated:
BOSTON (AP) — A doctor who told Reggie Lewis he had a ``normal athlete's heart'' two months before the Boston Celtics star died shooting baskets was cleared today of charges in Lewis's death.

Jurors were asked to decide whether cardiologist Gilbert Mudge provided Lewis with substandard care, and whether that negligence caused the player's 1993 death at 27.

It was not immediately known if Lewis' widow, Donna Harris-Lewis would appeal. Neither she nor Mudge was in the courtroom when the verdict was read.

In letter read by Mudge's lawyer, the doctor and his wife thanked the jury and judge.

``We are gratified by their obvious attention to the evidence in deciding this most complex case,'' they said.

Neil Rossman, the lawyer for Lewis' widow and two children, said his client needed time to accept the news.

``She needs to compose herself and deal with what has happened here,'' he said. ``She'll never get over the loss of her husband, and the children will never get over the loss of their father. But she's had the opportunity to have this question answered by a jury of her peers.''

The jury deliberated three days, with their decision coming moments after Judge Thayer Fremont-Smith reduced from 13 to 12 the number of jurors who had to agree on a verdict.

Lewis collapsed during a 1993 playoff game, and doctors diagnosed the problem as a potentially fatal heart arrhythmia. Unhappy with the diagnosis, Lewis and his wife walked out of the hospital and eventually went to Mudge.

Mudge said Lewis had a benign fainting disorder and would eventually be able to play basketball ``without limitation.'' But on July 27, Lewis collapsed at the Celtics' practice facility and died.

``He (Mudge) didn't do anything,'' Rossman said during the trial. ``Every one of those days that Lewis was out there he was a dead man walking. It was just a matter of time.''

Mudge contended that even though he said publicly Lewis could eventually resume his NBA career, he had not ruled out a heart problem. He also cautioned Lewis to take his medication and not exert himself — instructions his patient ignored, Mudge said.

An earlier trial had exonerated two doctors who consulted with Mudge, but that jury had deadlocked trying to reach a conclusion as to Mudge's liability.

The judge, who presided over both trials, said there was no question in either trial that Mudge was an eminent physician and that Harris-Lewis was a loving and dedicated wife and mother.

``I hope the time has now come when everybody involved in the case can count their many blessings and move on with their lives,'' he said.

In the first trial, Mudge argued his ability to diagnose Lewis' condition was hindered because the player concealed a history of cocaine use. But the judge instructed this jury it should not consider whether drug use hastened Lewis' death.

Mudge and Harris-Lewis agreed to reduce to 12 the number of jurors needed for a verdict in hopes of another hung jury.

``I think everybody wanted to have this case resolved,'' said Rossman, who called Harris-Lewis with the jury's decision. ``We took our chances.''

A ``dream team'' of a dozen doctors diagnosed Lewis' problem as a potentially fatal heart arrhythmia. Unhappy with the diagnosis, Lewis and his wife walked out of the hospital and eventually went to Mudge.

Mudge said Lewis had a benign fainting disorder and would eventually be able to play basketball ``without limitation.'' But on July 27, Lewis collapsed at the Celtics' practice facility and died.

``He (Mudge) didn't do anything,'' Rossman said during the second trial. ``Every one of those days that Lewis was out there he was a dead man walking. It was just a matter of time.''

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