DELAWARE, Ohio (AP) — Calling a pregnant mother's death the worst crime he had ever seen, a judge sentenced an ex-Ohio doctor to 36 years in prison Friday as he blasted the defendant for not trying to save the woman as she suffered respiratory distress from a heroin overdose.
Former emergency room doctor Ali Salim had faced up to 37 years in prison. He was given nearly all of that with a sentence of 36 years and four months; a few weeks are likely to be subtracted because of time he's already served. He previously pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in the deaths of Deanna Ballman and her nearly full-term child, who was to be called Mabel.
Delaware County Judge Duncan Whitney also fined Salim $70,000 and slapped the state's toughest sex offender label on him, requiring him to report to authorities every three months for life when released. Prosecutors also say Salim, a native of Pakistan, would be eligible for deportation once he serves his sentence.
Whitney said Ballman's character had no bearing on the case, which instead came down to a doctor who failed to revive her.
"Quite frankly, this is the worst crime this court has ever seen," Whitney said. "You were a man of medicine, sir. To allow someone to die — you obviously were aware that they were struggling respiratorily — it's unthinkable."
Ballman's mother, Lori Ballman, called Salim "a real Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" who committed a despicable crime.
"You could have stopped it. You could have resuscitated her. You could have called 911. You could have at least delivered Mabel, so we could at least have her in our lives," Ballman said, addressing Salim. "But no. No. You chose to just let them die. You watched them die."
Salim, 44, apologized while acknowledging nothing he said could ease the family's pain. He said he allowed "personal, petty interests," including sexual relationships with many women, to blind him to the consequences of his actions.
"It is very clear that my actions have caused immense harm, and I can't think of anyone else but me who must be held responsible for those actions," Salim said.
When Ballman disappeared in July 2012, her family initially said she had answered a housekeeping ad on Craigslist. Instead, investigators determined the 23-year-old had taken up prostitution when she moved back to Ohio after a divorce and with no financial means.
The ad she responded to: "$200 for a girl in need," an online euphemism for prostitution, assistant Delaware County prosecutor Kyle Rohrer said in a court filing.
Ballman died of a fatal heroin overdose, which investigators say Salim administered at his house in an upscale central Ohio neighborhood. Rohrer says there is no evidence Ballman used drugs.
Ballman's body was found the next day in the back of her car on a rural road a few miles from Salim's house.
Salim's attorney, Sam Shamansky, said Ballman injected herself with heroin, while Rohrer disputed that as implausible given the injection was on her left thigh and the nine months pregnant Ballman was right-handed.
Salim realized too late that Ballman had died, Shamansky told the judge.
"He recognizes that had he followed the law, and behaved as a doctor should have, and behaved frankly, as a man should have, we wouldn't be here," he said.
In pushing for something less than the maximum, Shamansky said Salim could have fled to Pakistan in the months he spent as an uncharged suspect, but instead stayed put.
Shamansky also submitted Craigslist postings and emails that he said show Ballman solicited sex online.
Salim used Craigslist extensively to meet sexual partners, with many references in his ads to exchanging drugs for sex, including heroin, Rohrer said. Salim also wrote prescriptions for hard drugs for women with whom he had sexual relationships, and also bought heroin that he gave women who visited his house, he said.
Salim apologized Friday for being "an enabler" to these women, though he also claimed he tried to help them kick their habits.
Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus.
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