An American surgeon once accused of killing up to 13 patients through botched operations walked free from an Australian court on Thursday after being given a two-year suspended prison sentence for lying to get a job in a public hospital.
Jayant Patel had pleaded guilty in the Queensland state District Court last week to four fraud charges stemming from his medical registration and employment as chief surgeon at regional Bundaberg Base Hospital from 2003 to 2005.
Patel had failed to declare that the U.S. states of Oregon and New York had placed restrictions on him from performing certain types of surgical procedures, and he continued performing those operations in Australia.
Prosecutors dropped two manslaughter charges and two counts of causing grievous bodily harm that had related to his treatment of patients.
An Australian government inquiry initially found that Patel may have directly contributed to 13 deaths at the Bundaberg hospital.
Prosecutor Peter Davis told a sentencing hearing on Thursday that a non-custodial sentence on the fraud convictions was appropriate since Patel had already served more than two years in prison on convictions that had been overturned on appeal.
Judge Terry Martin said the sentencing brought an end to a lengthy, tragic chapter in the history of Queensland.
Outside the court, Patel said he had been on "a long and very difficult" journey through the courts over eight years.
"I'm pleased that it's over and I'll be going back to my life and my work," Patel told reporters.
Patel, an Indian-born U.S. citizen, was convicted in Queensland Supreme Court in 2010 of three counts of manslaughter and one of causing a patient grievous bodily harm during surgery at Bundaberg. He was sentenced to seven years in prison, but Australia's highest court threw out those convictions last year after Patel appealed.
Prosecutors began retrying Patel one charge at a time. A jury acquitted him of the manslaughter of a patient in March. A second trial on a charge of causing a patient grievous bodily harm ended with a deadlocked jury last month.
The state's chief prosecutor then decided to drop all further criminal negligence charges, due in part to the time Patel has already spent in prison and the failure of prosecutors to prove the latest cases.
Patel's competency as a surgeon has been under scrutiny in both the U.S. and Australia for more than 25 years. When his patients and colleagues at the Bundaberg hospital began to complain about his work, he left Australia and returned to the U.S.
The FBI arrested him at his home in Portland, Oregon, in 2008 and he was extradited to Australia, where prosecutors accused him of misdiagnosing patients and using sloppy, out-of-date surgical techniques.