A medical student faces felony charges for the theft of an iPad that belonged to a cancer patient at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.
The case represents a tragic intersection of the lives of two young women in their early 30s.
Hospitalized with an aggressive form of breast cancer, keeping her iPad at bedside, Natalie Packer went into cardiac arrest. It was during the Code Blue response to try to revive her that the iPad disappeared, according to her family.
Months later, authorities found the iPad in the possession of Virginia Nguyen, 32, identified as a third-year student at UCLA's Geffen School of Medicine. She has pleaded not guilty to charges of petty theft, grand theft of lost property, and also of computer access and fraud.
Local news from across Southern California
She made a brief court appearance Friday morning and was ordered to return Oct. 3.
Recovering the iPad was important for Packer's family, her uncle Sam Heller said, because in her final days she had been entering personal messages and information for her sister Nicole.
A few days after Natalie Packer's death, she activated Apple's finder app, and it discovered the iPad at the Medical Center. It also revealed that "Natalie's iPad" had been re-registered with Apple as "Virginia's iPad," Heller said.
It was at that point that the family contacted University Police. Ultimately, a detective obtained a search warrant for the re-registration information recorded wih Apple, revealing Nguyen's last name.
She was arrested on campus last March, and the District Attorney filed criminal charges at the end of July.
Nguyen told a detective she picked up the iPad by mistake because it looked like hers, according to Heller's account of what Det. Ethan Shear told him.
"If you analyze it, it's a pretty lame defense," Heller said.
When a medical school graduate seeks licensing to practice medicine in California, a felony conviction would be a negative factor taken into consideration, said Cassandra Hockenson, spokesperson for the California Medical Board.
Efforts by NBC4News to contact Nguyen and an attorney who has represented her were unsuccessful.
"I am committed to providing social justice and healthcare for diverse populations," reads the summary line on Nguyen's page on the LinkedIn networking site. It also states she works as a Research Fellow at the Medical School. However, she is "not currently employed at UCLA," according to a statement issued by the University.
Citing privacy considerations, UCLA declined to comment on Nguyen's student status, but its statement noted the Medical School enforces an honor code.
"In those instances when a student's conduct does not meet those standards, we have administrative procedures that ensure appropriate due process is afforded to the student while also moving swiftly yet fairly to ensure accountability to these standards," according to the UCLA statement.
Packer's family is baffled by the notion that a medical student would jeopardize a career for which she has worked so hard.
Packer, who worked in the front office of the NFL, was the kind of person who would have offered the iPad as a gift, Heller said, had she only known it was wanted so much.