By Leonard Zwelling
HOUSTON—Ana Maria Gonzalez-Angulo, a 43-year-old breast cancer specialist at MD Anderson Cancer Center, was found guilty of poisoning her lover, George Blumenschein, another medical oncologist at MD Anderson.
A jury at the Harris County 248th District Criminal Court found Gonzalez-Angulo guilty of aggravated assault Sept. 26. The court immediately went into the penalty phase of the proceedings.
The jury reached its guilty verdict after deliberating for a total of four hours spread over two days.
The case against Gonzalez-Angulo was largely circumstantial. Prosecution was able to establish that Blumenschein was poisoned with ingested ethylene glycol on the morning of Jan. 27, 2013. However, the case circumstantially connected the poison to the coffee that may have been served to him by Gonzalez-Angulo.
Much was been made of the Fatal Attraction-like portrayal of the case—it’s tabloid fodder, slimy yet solid and even instructive. Of course, office romance involving peers isn’t against the law, but in some situations it can be corrosive. Long before the alleged poisoning, this was one such situation, witnesses said.
Over the past two weeks in this courtroom, prosecutors have, in effect, demonstrated the corrosive effect of this office romance and the manner in which it affected the conduct of business at MD Anderson.
Here in the courtroom, we saw that many smart, caring people—many of whom were doctors, and some of whom were friends of both the victim and the defendant—knew about this affair. It wasn’t difficult to grasp the effects of this relationship on those in the work place and more importantly, the toll it was taking on both physicians.
At least two faculty members sensed the high probability of a catastrophe and even tried to stop it from occurring. One confronted each of the two investigators and asked whether they were having an affair. According to court testimony, both Gonzalez-Angulo and Blumenschein lied.
Another senior faculty member was suspicious that some of the work the two were doing was competing with the well-established phase I program at MD Anderson (The Cancer Letter, Sept. 19).
Yet no supervisor intervened.
Friends were aware of the defendant’s inner turmoil. She was losing weight and was becoming more emotional, agitated and angry, witnesses said.
Before Blumenschein’s poisoning, Gonzalez-Angulo claimed that she had been mugged. Details of the incident struck many as suspicious as her accounts seemed to be inconsistent, witnesses said.
Her bruises didn’t fit the story either, and her friends—all of them physicians—said in court that they knew it.
Yet no one said or did anything. No one tried to turn the tide.
Also, there were anonymous letters and accusations of conflicts of interest aimed at Blumenschein.
Even after the poisoning, a cascade of anonymous letters pointed out that Blumenschein was a principal investigator on studies sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline, the employer of his live-in girlfriend, who has a Ph.D. in clinical epidemiology. (According to testimony, the two were trying to start a family.)
Many of these letters had Gonzalez-Angulo’s first name and Blumenschein’s last name consistently misspelled.
According to testimony, a GSK investigator compared the voice on audiotapes Blumenschein made of Gonzalez-Angulo’s calls to him after his near-fatal poisoning to calls into the GSK hotline for conflicts of interest. The GSK investigator identified the caller as Gonzalez-Angulo.
It is not clear whether Blumenschein will have the career he seemed certain to enjoy for another 20-or-more years before this dalliance. His life expectancy is altered because his renal function is still only 43 percent of what it was.
The toll on Gonzalez-Angulo was visible to the naked eye even before the jury reached the verdict. Her complexion, her hair, and her suits all match: all are grey.
The author, a former physician-scientist and administrator at MD Anderson, covered the trial on his blog, lenzwelling.blogspot.com.