Monday, August 6, 2001
C.A. Upholds Doctor’s Conviction in Botched Mexican Surgery
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
A doctor whose patient died as a result of a botched and unnecessary operation was properly tried in California, even though the surgery took place in Tijuana, the Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled Friday.
This state’s courts had jurisdiction to try John Ronald Brown because arrangements for the operation were made here, Justice Patricia Benke concluded for Div. One.
Brown, who wasn’t licensed in Mexico and lost his California license over 20 years ago after regulators found him guilty of gross negligence, was convicted of second degree murder in the death of Philip Bondy. Bondy was found dead in a National City hotel room in May 1998, two days after Brown removed one of his legs for $10,000.
The 79-year-old Bondy was said to suffer from apotemnophilia, a sexual compulsion to have healthy limbs amputated.
The removal of limbs as a treatment for the condition is universally condemned in the United States, but has occurred in other countries. British newspapers reported last year that a Scottish surgeon had performed two such operations, after consulting with a mental health professional who said psychotherapy was useless and the men would probably try to amputate the limbs themselves—such cases have been reported—if they couldn’t find a surgeon willing to do it.
Bondy was introduced to Brown by Gregg Furth, a friend of Bondy’s who was also an apotemnophiliac and said he discussed having the doctor operate on him but decided against it before Bondy had his surgery.
There was testimony at the trial that people with apotemnophilia feel that limbs are “alien” parts of their bodies and must be removed to make them whole again. The condition has been likened to the obsession shared by those who want to have sex with amputees.
A witness who knew Bondy said the decedent had been searching for nearly his entire life for a doctor willing to cut off his leg before meeting the defendant, who was derided as “Butcher” Brown in newspaper accounts that also focused on his role in several illegal sex-change operations. One reportedly left the patient so depressed she committed suicide.
Prior to the murder trial, Brown pled guilty to seven counts of unlawful practice in connection with those operations. San Diego Superior Court Judge Bernard Revak sentenced him to seven concurrent three-year terms.
Bondy died of gas gangrene, a pathologist testified. The condition is associated with poor surgical conditions and lack of proper care for wounds, he said.
The decedent was a particularly poor surgical risk, the expert added, because of his age and history of heart trouble.
A state medical investigator testified that he spoke to Brown, who admitted performing the surgery. Brown acknowledged that he did not prescribe antibiotics, which the pathologist said are an effective means of preventing gangrene, but said he didn’t think they were necessary because it was a “clean case.”
Benke concluded that there was a sufficient connection between California and the crime for the state courts to exercise jurisdiction. She cited evidence that Brown met with Bondy in San Diego to discuss the surgery, took him to Chula Vista to buy crutches, then traveled with him to Mexico, and then brought him back here.
Additionally, she said, the patient was “still, at least nominally, in appellant’s care” when he died in California.
“With the state of mind required for a conviction of implied malice murder, appellant carried out in this state non de minimis acts of preparation and direct involvement such that California had a clear interest in and legitimate basis to prosecute him for murder,” Benke wrote.
Benke distinguished People v. Buffum (1953) 40 Cal.2d 709. The court held in that case that a conspiracy to commit a crime outside the state could not be prosecuted in California unless acts in furtherance of the conspiracy, sufficient to constitute an attempt to commit a California crime, occurred here.
Otherwise, the court reasoned, a defendant could be convicted of conspiring in California to commit an act that was not illegal here.
Buffum’s “attempt rule” was abrogated by the Supreme Court in People v. Morante (1999) 20 Cal.4th 403, but the court concluded that the rule was established law and would continue to apply to crimes occurring before Morante was decided.
Brown’s counsel argued that Buffum barred prosecution because the doctor’s California activities in relation to the operation didn’t amount to a criminal attempt. He cited pre-Morante Court of Appeal cases applying the attempt rule to crimes beyond conspiracy.
But Benke said Buffum didn’t apply. The high court never extended the rule beyond conspiracy cases, she explained, and the Court of Appeal cases which did so did not create established law because there was a conflict in the decisions, she reasoned.
The case is People v. Brown, 01 S.O.S. 3877.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company