A former anesthesiologist pleaded guilty on Friday to involuntary manslaughter in the death of a fellow doctor who was undergoing an outpatient surgery in Beverly Hills -- admitting that he injected himself before the operation with Demerol stolen from the surgical center and then left the operating room to inject himself with additional drugs during the surgery.
Superior Court Judge H. Clay Jacke ordered Stephen Kyo-Sung Kim, now 57, to be taken into custody immediately after his plea in connection with the Sept. 26, 2017, death of 71-year-old orthopedic surgeon Mark Greenspan.
Kim -- who was initially charged with murder -- is due back in the downtown Los Angeles courtroom for sentencing in December 2023. He is expected to be sentenced then to the two years he will have already served behind bars.
Under questioning by Deputy District Attorney Beth Silverman, the defendant acknowledged that he had been using narcotics that had been stolen from various surgical centers prior to and during surgeries for two to three years; that he injected himself with 50 milligrams of Demerol stolen from the surgical center after he arrived at the facility; and that he did not recall a discussion that morning that the surgery would be done under a local anesthesia with intravenous sedation rather than general anesthesia, as was done.
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Kim also admitted that he left the operating room during the surgery to inject 50 milligrams of Demerol and 60 milligrams of Toradol and that he fell and struck his head when he returned to the operating room but said he was fine and able to continue.
The anesthesiologist -- who has agreed to surrender his medical license and never work in any job in the medical field -- also acknowledged that he unsuccessfully tried to intubate Greenspan numerous times after his heart rate dropped shortly after he administered two medications to the patient about 30 minutes after the surgery; that he incorrectly inserted a breathing tube into the patient and had to be physically pulled away by a paramedic from Greenspan's IV after re-entering the room with a syringe and beginning to inject the contents that he described as Demerol into the patient's IV line.
Blood and urine samples collected from Kim indicated that he had a significant amount of Demerol and traces of Fentanyl in his system, he admitted, agreeing that he had used Demerol about 150 times prior to or during other medical procedures.
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“The fact that my father was killed while he lay unconscious, unable to defend himself, is a reality I will never escape,'' Greenspan's son, Ivan, said during the hearing.
“The tragic powerlessness of my father being chemically paralyzed by a high ex-anesthesiologist is still hard to accept. This killer strategically set himself up to take advantage of unconscious patients to steal drugs and, in the case of my father, kill him. This heartless killer was getting high while he left my father to die.''
The victim's son told Kim that he hopes "emotional pain is a constant companion and that guilt, shame and dread remain with you forever.''
Outside court, the victim's sister, Linda Resnick, said she had “really lost my best friend.”
“You go into a surgery and you trust that you're going to be OK,” she told City News Service.
She said listening to the factual basis for Kim's guilty plea ``felt like my guts had been ripped out of me.”
“What did my brother suffer? ... It wasn't a peaceful death,” she said.
One of the victim's nieces, Dawn Rawdon, said she was not satisfied with the promised sentence and would have liked Kim to do more time behind bars.
“To me, that's nothing,'' she said.
Kim was initially charged with murder in December 2017 involving Greenspan's death and was subsequently indicted in August 2018 on the same charge.
Paramedics and police were summoned to Rodeo Drive Plastic Surgery Center in Beverly Hills in connection with a call that Greenspan had stopped breathing during the recovery process. Shortly after the criminal case was filed against Kim, Beverly Hills police said the investigation suggested that Kim administered a lethal dose of Demerol to Greenspan.
Greenspan went into cardiac arrest and died soon afterward, according to the District Attorney's Office.
The case stemmed from a three-month investigation by Beverly Hills police, with assistance from the California Medical Board and the District Attorney's Office.
Kim was ordered in December 2017 not to practice medicine while the case was pending.
“This should be a wakeup call to the medical community,'' the prosecutor said outside court, saying that doctors who violate their oath not to do any harm will be held accountable.
One of Kim's attorneys, Robert A. Schwartz, said after the sentencing that it was a "tragedy across the board for everybody," including Greenspan and his family and Kim and his family.
“It was just a perfect storm of terrible things that happened at the same time,'' the defense lawyer said.
Schwartz said a report from a renowned cardiologist "changed the dynamic of the case completely," with the expert concluding that Greenspan had an enlarged heart that caused a medical condition that may have been the cause of death irrespective of the medication given to him by Kim.
Kim's attorney said he believed the disposition is “the right outcome given the circumstances.”
“Dr. Kim feels terrible remorse about what he did and told us that repeatedly. He will carry this on his conscience the rest of his life,” the defense attorney said.