Mistrial in suicide suit

WARREN – After a jury deliberated into a second day and announced themselves helplessly deadlocked, a judge declared a mistrial Friday in the medical malpractice and wrongful death trial that centered on a Iraqi War veteran’s suicide.

”Our hearts went out to the family from the very start of this trial. We’ll have to see what happens next,” said attorney Thomas Prislipsky, who represented family practice physicians Dr. Frank G. Veres and his son, Dr. Zachary F. Veres in Champion.

The doctors were sued by Matt Ecker, also of Champion, who filed the action on behalf of his 25-year-old son, Michael, who had been treated by the doctors for pain and depression after suffering post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic head injuries in battle.

The vet put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger after saluting his father in the family’s backyard in August 2009.

”We’ll just have to look at all our options and talk to our clients. This was a hard-fought battle all week,” said attorney Brian Kopp, who represented the Ecker family.

Family members who waited patiently in the hallway of the Trumbull County Courthouse on Thursday afternoon and most of the day Friday declined comment after the decision to declare a mistrial.

Both sides agreed to the decision after the jury sent several messages to Judge W. Wyatt McKay that they were hung. McKay made the ruling while Judge Ronald Rice presided over the trial that started Monday.

”We were locked up with four on each side from the very start,” said one female juror as she left the courtroom.

Another juror explained that the panel of three men and five women weren’t even able to move past the issue of whether the doctors had breached the standard of care. If a majority of six out of the eight jurors could have agreed on that issue in favor of the Eckers, they were to decide if any breach caused the suicide.

With two medical experts siding with the Eckers, Kopp tried to convince jurors that the doctors increased the veteran’s medication, but never referred him for psychiatric treatment. Kopp was critical of the doctors, saying they didn’t try hard enough to retrieve Ecker’s medical records from the Veterans Administration.

Both the doctors insisted, though, that Ecker never showed any suicidal signs and was on good terms with his family and his girlfriend. He also had just landed a job the week that he killed himself.