NOT GUILTY: St. Rita's owners cleared on all counts

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Sal and Mabel Mangano, the nursing home owners initially reviled around the world after 35 of their residents drowned after Hurricane Katrina, were cleared on all counts late Friday in their negligent homicide trial.

The jury of four men and two women took just four hours to return their "not guilty" verdict on 35 counts of negligent homicide and 24 additional counts of cruelty to the infirm.

Defense attorneys, who repeatedly hammered home alleged mistakes made by various government agencies and personnel, clearly made an impact. Jurors said they initially voted 5-1 to acquit before making it unanimous.

Juror Kim Maxwell, a 46-year-old secretary, might have summed up her peers' thoughts the best: "A lot of mistakes were made, but they shouldn't be blamed on just two people."

After the verdicts were read, jurors asked to speak with the Manganos, consoling and congratulating them. The Manganos were the only individuals criminally charged in the aftermath of Katrina. Roughly 1,500 people died due to the storm.

Prosecutors claimed the Manganos had negligently decided to shelter in place, refusing offers of evacuation vehicles and other assistance, possibly in an attempt to save money. Other nearby nursing homes evacuated, suffering the loss of only one life while saving hundreds of others.

St. Rita's nursing home had never flooded before during hurricanes but it filled with seven feet of water in a matter of minutes after nearby levees either broke or were breeched by Katrina storm surges.