Earlier today, David Kwiatkowski, the hospital worker who admitted causing a nationwide hepatitis outbreak last summer and infecting dozens of patients with hepatitis over a 10-year period, was sentenced to 39 years in federal prison. He'd pleaded guilty earlier this year and was due to get between 30 and 40 years in prison. Ultimately, federal district court judge Joseph LaPlante opted to give him one year below the maximum term in that window.
In sentencing Kwiatkowski, LaPlante explained why he decided to impose a sentence one year less than what the government sought.For those who don't know, when Kwiatkowski pleaded guilty in August, he admitted that from 2003 to 2012, he stole syringes of fetanyl from patients intended for surgery and injected himself with it. He then replaced the fetanyl with saline before replacing them. Thus, patients who thought they were getting a painkiller were instead getting saline tainted with Kwiatkowski's infected blood. This continued even after he was diagnosed with hepatitis in 2010. He did most of his damage at Exeter Hospital in Exeter, New Hampshire, where 32 people are known to have been infected. He also admitted to infecting six people each during earlier stops at Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore and Hays Medical Center in Hays, Kansas. One of the Kansas victims ultimately died. Additionally, he admitted to diverting drugs in a similar manner in Georgia and Kansas. He kept doing this right up to the day he was arrested in July 2012. Prosecutors called him a "serial infector" with a drug habit that dates as far back as his high school days.
"The question is begged here why 39 years as opposed to 40? While the law doesn't view it as purposeful or knowing conduct, just viewing it as reckless conduct for a crime of addiction just doesn't do it justice," LaPlante explained.
"There is a component to your conduct that goes beyond recklessness," LaPlante told Kwiatkowski.
"There is a component of cruelty or sadistic or hostility or something about it," the judge added.
LaPlante told Kwiatkowski he could view his imposing one year less than the 40-year maximum the government sought as "a token."
"People do have a capacity for mercy. This isn't any generous helping of that. It's just a token ... It's important for me to recognize and remember as you'd spend the next 39 years of your life in prison, I hope you remember the one year you didn't get and remember and try to develop that capacity in yourself. I don't wish you death in prison, but to call this just a reckless act or the crime of a drug-addicted person would not be accurate and it would not be just," LaPlante said.
Kwiatkowski's previous employers bear as much responsibility for this horror as he does. He'd been fired or forced to resign from several hospitals for drug-related misconduct. One has to wonder how his previous employers didn't notice.
Kwiatkowski will likely be in prison until well into his 70s. On the face of it, even this sentence seems way too light. He actually admitted knowing that he could potentially kill a lot of people. ABC medical editor Richard Besser was probably being kind when he called Kwiatkowski's behavior "the definition of evil." On principle, someone like that should never be allowed to live among us again. I can understand why prosecutors agreed to a lower sentence, though. They probably didn't want to make the victims and their families go through the trauma of a trial. Seen in that light, Kwiatkowski at least had the decency not to make the victims endure that. It's probably the only time in the last decade that he showed any sense of decency at all.