Arkansas Medical Board chairman testifies he lost eye, hearing, part of intestine in bombing

By Chuck Bartels, AP
Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Ark. Medical Board head testifies at bombing trial

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The Arkansas Medical Board chairman, his face scarred and embedded with bits of tire, testified Wednesday that he lost an eye, his sense of smell, teeth and some hearing when a bomb went off in his driveway.

Dr. Trent Pierce testified against Dr. Randeep Mann, who prosecutors say planned the attack as retaliation for the medical board taking away his license to write prescriptions. Pierce took the stand after a jail inmate told jurors Mann had offered him $50,000 to kill Pierce to keep him from testifying.

Mann was arrested about a month after a bomb planted in a spare tire exploded in the driveway of Pierce’s West Memphis home as he was preparing to leave for work on Feb. 4, 2009. A grand jury indicted Mann after nearly 100 grenades were found buried near his home in Pope County, more than 200 miles away.

Pierce, with his wife watching from the gallery, said he had little memory of the blast.

“I have a vague recollection of falling back, then sitting up in an Indian-style manner,” he said.

The doctor’s voice caught and he needed a moment after Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Gordon asked him what was his next memory.

“A number of weeks later, waking up in the (Medical Center of Memphis),” he answered.

Pierce then described a litany of injuries and marveled he was still alive.

He lost his left eye and tire pigment lodged in his right eye, damaging his vision. Other pieces from the tire were visible in the skin on Pierce’s face, peppering his badly scarred complexion.

Pierce said he lost numerous teeth, his right arm, knee and tibia were fractured, and he had third-degree burns and sections of flesh that were blown away. Shrapnel that punctured his abdomen resulted in part of his small intestine being removed.

The blast also destroyed his olfactory nerve, leaving him without a sense of smell.

“I should be dead,” he said. “I’m very lucky it did not affect me cognitively.”

Mann looked at Pierce during some of his testimony, and other times looked down at the defense table. He stood when Pierce was asked to identify him, but otherwise they didn’t interact.

Pierce told jurors about Mann’s disciplinary history for overprescribing narcotics.

The 13-member medical board took away Mann’s license to prescribe narcotics in 2003 for a year after he was cited for improperly prescribing methadone and amphetamines. Pierce testified he scolded Mann and wagged his finger in his face, telling Mann he expected to see him before the board again.

“I was frustrated that Dr. Mann had … no insight, no acceptance that he had inappropriately prescribed medications that led to harm,” Pierce said.

Authorities say 10 of Mann’s patients died from overdoses.

In 2006, the board revoked Mann’s license to practice medicine but suspended the punishment as long as Mann gave up his license to write prescriptions for narcotics permanently and met other conditions, such as not running a pain clinic and not hiring someone else to prescribe narcotics.

Mann applied to get his license back in 2007, after Pierce had become the board’s chairman.

Pierce acknowledged he “was not exactly the kindest individual” in how he addressed Mann during the board meeting. He said he wanted new members on the board to understand Mann’s history.

“Sometimes the board chairman has to be the tough parent,” Pierce said.

Mann continued in 2008 to try to get his license back and was told in a December letter that he could go before the board again in June 2009. The bomb went off a couple months later.

Morning testimony began with a federal prison inmate testifying Mann offered him $50,000 to kill Pierce and make it look like a drive-by shooting. Defense lawyers tried to discredit the testimony by noting the inmate’s lengthy criminal record, including one escape and a conviction for failing to report for a prison sentence.

After Pierce testified, defense attorney Erin Cassinelli Couch told U.S. District Judge Brian Miller that the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms hadn’t provided requested information and kept changing its procedures for releasing the material.

Miller said he would declare a mistrial if the ATF didn’t comply with defense subpoenas for information about Mann. An after-hours call to the ATF for comment Wednesday wasn’t immediately returned.

The defense is scheduled to begin presenting its case Friday.

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