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Doctor guilty in death at home used as a medical clinic

February 25, 2011 |  6:14 pm

Nearly three years after a 30-year-old man died on the operating table at an Inglewood home turned into a neighborhood clinic, a Los Angeles County Superior Court jury Friday convicted the surgeon of involuntary manslaughter.

Dr. Roberto Bonilla, 64, was found guilty in a Torrance courthouse in the death of Osvaldo Hernandez, a restaurant dishwasher and illegal immigrant from Mexico who had paid the surgeon several thousand dollars in cash to relieve a sharp pain in his belly.

On the day of the gallbladder surgery -- June 4, 2008 -- Bonilla used lidocaine, a local anesthetic, to perform the open surgery. Several experts have said such procedures rarely take place under anything but general anesthesia, and in a hospital setting or accredited surgical center.

But Bonilla said he had performed that surgery, in such a lower-cost manner, safely about 200 times before without a problem. He was helped by three medical assistants, but no anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist.

Hernandez went into cardiac arrest almost immediately after the first cut. Over the next several hours, Bonilla performed CPR on the patient, but he never called 911, though Centinela Hospital Medical Center was just around the corner. The surgeon eventually called a mortuary, instead of the coroner’s office, to pick up Hernandez’s body.

Investigators said the doctor injected a fatal overdose of lidocaine and that the setting, along with the overdose and other decisions the doctor made before and after the injection, played a major role in the death.

Prosecutors described Bonilla's actions as that of someone trying to cover up what he had done.

Bonilla’s attorney, Mike Khouri, argued that the doctor did all that could be done to save Hernandez. In court, he argued that Hernandez suffered from an allergic reaction to the lidocaine, or that Bonilla accidentally "hit" a vein while injecting the anesthetic into the patient.

The verdict came after more than four days of jury deliberation. Bonilla, who remains free on bail, is expected to be sentenced March 25.

"At least three of the jurors were in tears at the time the verdict was announced," Khouri said. "I’m disappointed, but we think that Dr. Bonilla is a perfect candidate for probation. The jury deliberated for a very long time, so obviously their decision was a difficult one to make."


Doctor charged in patient's death during surgery at a home clinic

-- Hector Becerra

Photo: Dr. Roberto Bonilla. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times