SOMEBODY IS LYING: The Story of Dr. X by Myron Farber
Kirkus Star


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Also, the story of New York Times reporter Farber himself, who served a contempt sentence in 1978 for refusing to turn over his files to defense counsel for Dr. Mario Jascalevich, then on trial for murder in the ""unexplained"" deaths of five patients at New Jersey's Riverdell Hospital twelve years earlier. Farber first broke the story of ""Dr. X"" (as the Times called him in early coverage), and no more comprehensive account of this strange case is likely to appear. The facts were straight from a Michael Crichton mystery: sudden post-surgical deaths of seemingly healthy patients in a small private hospital, inconclusive autopsies, and 18 vials of curare (a deadly poison if injected, but with legitimate anaesthesia uses) found in the locker of the chief surgeon. Jascalevich said he kept the curare for experiments on dogs, though where and when he performed them was somewhat unclear. A 1966 inquiry was dropped, but nine years later a letter to the Times put Farber onto the story and into the maze of investigative legwork. Prosecutorial interest picked up, exhumations and re-autopsies were ordered, and bingo: state toxicologists said they found traces of curare in the bodies. There ensued the longest criminal trial of a single defendant in American history, which turned into something of a ""debating society gone berserk"" as young prosecutor Sybil Moses and veteran black defense lawyer Ray Brown (his preferred epitaph: ""angry, nasty and competent"") traded insults. Brown fought an uphill battle (even his own toxicologist found curare in one of the bodies), but so successfully that the jury came back with an acquittal in two hours flat. Ironically, the only one who wound up in the slammer (the Bergen County jail, which ""could have served as the set for a Jimmy Cagney movie"") was Farber, for standing up for his rights under the first amendment and New Jersey's reporters' ""shield"" law. Though he doesn't belabor his jail stint or mount the soapbox, Farber persuasively argues the case for confidentiality of reporters' files (but not on an unlimited basis--he and the Times were prepared to comply, it appears, after a hearing on issues of relevance, materiality, and overbreadth in Brown's subpoena). But simply letting the defense rummage through his files, said Farber, would be tantamount to admitting ""that the nation's premier newspaper is no longer available to those. . . who seek it out. . . to talk freely and without fear."" Overall: though the trial-testimony sections bog down occasionally, first-rate reporting of a case that may (unless those people really died of natural causes) still be a mystery.

Pub Date: Aug. 13th, 1982
Publisher: Doubleday