Closing arguments to begin in trial of prominent doctor accused of drug crimes

Closing arguments are set to begin Tuesday morning in the federal drug trial against prominent Big Island physician Rudy Puana.
Published: Apr. 18, 2022 at 5:24 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Closing arguments are set to begin Tuesday morning in the federal drug trial against prominent Big Island physician Rudy Puana.

Puana’s attorneys will get one last chance to convince jurors he was not illegally dealing drugs.

Meanwhile, federal prosecutors will work to tie in evidence and witnesses that point to a drug dealing operation led by the pain management doctor.

“You’re talking to the jury. They see your facial expressions, you’re making eye contact with them,” said Megan Kau, a former city prosecutor turned defense attorney.

Kau said closing arguments can sway jurors who have not made up their mind yet on the case.

The government goes first for closing arguments. The defense then gets their chance.

But only the prosecution gets another chance, a final rebuttal argument.

After that, jurors will get instructions and will begin deliberations to determine if Puana was illegally prescribing fentanyl and oxycodone in order to sell or trade for other drugs like cocaine.

Puana’s team will try to tie together their witnesses to convince the jury that he was a great doctor who made mistakes.

Alexander Silvert, a retired federal public defender, said the defense will probably seek to seed doubt in jurors’ minds. “Is this really simply a case of malpractice or negligence on the part of Dr. Puana?”

In other words, Silvert said, defense attorneys will argue “it wasn’t criminal. He didn’t have an intent to violate the law, what he was doing was a standard of care that he believed was appropriate.”

Silvert said jurors could find that hard to accept given Puana’s sister, Katherine Kealoha, was one of his patients. Kealoha, a former city prosecutor, is in prison serving time for conspiracy and obstruction.

Kealoha was flown back to Hawaii for the trial, but was not called to testify against her brother.

Ken Lawson, an instructor at the University of Hawaii School of Law, said the defense doesn’t have to convince the whole jury that Puana is not guilty.

“You’re trying to hang that jury,” Lawson said, “If you can just get one person, one person out of all 12, to say, ‘no, I’m not going to vote guilty, you can stop a verdict.”

Testimony lasted eight days and jurors heard from nearly 30 witnesses. Among them: Police officers, relatives, patients and longtime friends of Puana, who said he was a frequent drug user.

But some testified the he has been clean for several years now.

The jury could begin deliberating by Tuesday afternoon.

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