Katrina multiple homicide case may go to jury today

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Jury deliberations were expected to begin as early as this afternoon in the St. Rita's nursing home trial involving 35 resident drowning deaths after Hurricane Katrina.

Facility owners Sal and Mabel Mangano did not testify before defense attorneys rested their case Wednesday. In all, the defense called just five witnesses over three days, compared with 40 for the prosecution.

The defense continued to hammer home its contention that government emergency plans and levee failures were to blame for the drownings at the St. Bernard's parish nursing home in August 2005. At one point, however, an expert defense witness also criticized the Manganos' emergency evacuation plan - a personal 9-seat van - as unworkable.

Prosecutors were expected to call rebuttal witnesses Thursday before today's drama unfolds. Judge Jerome Winsberg instructed the six jurors to bring overnight bags to court today as a precaution because they are to be sequestered during deliberations if they go beyond this evening.

The Manganos each face 35 counts of negligent homicide and 24 counts of cruelty to the infirm in a case that has drawn attention worldwide.