Taxpayers may have to pay for care of murder suspect

Taxpayers could be on the hook for significant expenses to provide health care to the undocumented worker accused of fatally shooting his estranged wife and then shooting himself in the head.

Gerardo Lua , 38, remains in serious condition at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge after the April 3 shooting.

It’s not clear what physical and mental capacity he will have and whether Lua, who lived at 13250 Roddy Road, Lot 11, in Gonzales, ever will have the ability to assist in his defense and stand trial.

Twenty-third Judicial District Attorney Ricky Babin says he plans to bring the case to an Ascension Parish grand jury in the next few weeks, while he and other officials assess the potential costs of Lua’s long-term health care needs and whether the Ascension Parish Detention Center near Donaldsonville can handle that care.

“That’s a mess,” Babin said. “I can’t tell you how angry I am about this case.”

He said if he chooses to prosecute Lua, parish taxpayers likely are looking at significant expense in paying for Lua’s care while he is in parish custody.

If the grand jury does indict Lua, Babin said, he will quickly bring the case before a judge to determine if Lua is capable of standing trial. If Lua is not found capable of standing trial, the judge can order him to a state-funded mental health bed. Babin acknowledged that option still winds up as state taxpayers’ expense.

“My alternative is, let’s deport him and then he gets better and is cruising around, having committed murder in Ascension Parish. I don’t think so,” Babin said.

Bryan Cox, a spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said the agency plans to file an immigration detainer against Lua if he is criminally charged.

Lua’s wife, Alejandra Orozco, 36, was found dead in their Gonzales-area mobile home at Cobb’s Trailer Park off Roddy Road early on April 3. Orozco had been seeking a divorce and left Lua weeks earlier to be with her boyfriend in Illinois but returned April 2, deputies have said.

The slaying was the first of two domestic homicides in Ascension in the past two weeks. The other happened early Thursday when a man said to have shot his wife and son apparently jumped off Veterans Memorial Bridge in St. John the Baptist Parish. Authorities are still searching for the man.

Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Tony Bacala said Lua cannot move much of his body, is on a feeding tube and was on a ventilator earlier this week to assist with his breathing. Bacala added that Lua can respond to stimuli and tries to mumble a response but cannot be understood.

“Basically, he needs the kind of care you’re not going to get in the jail,” Bacala said.

But Alan Robert, district defender for the 23rd Judicial District Public Defender’s Office, said it won’t be easy to find one of those state beds, given the climate of budget cuts.

“They are going to have a tough time, in my opinion, finding someone to take him,” Robert said. “That is going to be real expensive medical care.”

Kathleen Meyers, spokeswoman for the state Department of Health and Hospitals, said DHH has mechanisms in place to reimburse hospitals for the cost of treating uninsured patients. She provided a list of 813 mental health beds for the indigent available at various facilities statewide.

In the meantime, Bacala said, Lua has not been arrested on what would likely be a murder count and has not been taken into deputies’ custody while officials search for a secure facility to care for him.

“We are monitoring it day to day, and when his condition is to that point and if it improves to that point, he will be taken into custody and we’ll arrest him,” Bacala said.

He noted that until Lua is arrested, he is like any other private patient in the hospital.

It’s not clear who is speaking for Lua in his incapacitated state. Lua also does not yet have a public defender because he has not been arrested, Robert said. Lua has two sons, one who is 16 and who found his parents April 3, but Bacala said no family has visited Lua in the hospital.

Lua and Orozco had lived in Los Angeles before moving to Ascension a few years ago.

Deputies do not know if Lua has health insurance, but advocates said it can be hard for undocumented workers to get insurance.

Under contract with the state, Our Lady of the Lake serves the uninsured in Baton Rouge, replacing the old state-operated charity facility at Earl K. Long Medical Center.

Catherine Harrell, spokeswoman for Our Lady of the Lake, would not speak directly about Lua’s condition, citing health privacy laws. She confirmed he was there, however.

But Harrell said that when the hospital has similar cases that do not involve a patient who could be taken into police custody, the hospital works with other providers in the community to determine how the patient’s needs can be met once the patient is ready to be discharged.

She said that in the past, some undocumented workers have been sent back to their home countries.

“Hospitals are responsible for ensuring the safe and appropriate transfer or discharge of their patients following any appropriate treatment,” DHH spokeswoman Meyers said.