'Naïve but relentless' — defense attorney outlines case in Derges trial

·3 min read

In his defense of embattled doctor and Nixa state Rep. Tricia Derges, attorney Al Watkins cast his client as a woman who is "naïve but relentless" in her effort to "mend, heal and save the lives" of those in need.

Derges faces dozens of federal charges alleging she marketed fake stem cell treatments to her patients, wrote illegal prescriptions, lied to federal investigators, and defrauded Greene County out of emergency coronavirus aid.

Prosecutors rested their case against Derges last week after nearly two weeks of the federal trial. Having deferred his opening remarks until the start of his case, Watkins told jurors there was "more to the story" than they were told by federal prosecutors.

Watkins is a criminal defense attorney based out of St. Louis who is known for defending high profile, right-wing clients — including the so-called QAnon Shaman Jake Angeli following his involvement the Jan. 6 insurrection.

In his remarks Watkins outlined a woman who had eight children before having the "naïve audacity" to go to medical school at age 52. After failing to receive a residency upon graduation, Derges wrote a medical textbook and opened Lift Up Someone Today, a Springfield-based non-profit giving free medical services to the impoverished in southwest Missouri.

"She was not afraid to aggressively pursue what was good for this community..." Watkins told jurors. "She ran a clinic the best way she knew by prioritizing her patients."

In his telling, Derges' "drive to learn more and more" about how to help her patients led her to the use of amniotic fluid injections, which was used to treat arthritis, joint injuries and other conditions.

That is treatment is central to the federal government's case, which alleges Derges told patients the amniotic fluid contained stem cells when they do not. Watkins said such claims were false and her patients often came to the treatments "with stem cells on the mind."

The criminal defense attorney also cast doubt on allegations Derges accepted county CARES act funds to reimburse herself for COVID tests she was charging for a profit.

"Every COVID test sold, no money was made — money was lost," he said.

In fact, Derges only learned of the CARES Act funds 24 hours before the application deadline. Though she rushed and may have made mistakes on the application, there was no "intent", according to Watkins, which is a requirement to convict her of the alleged fraud scheme.

"There is a delicate balance between altruism and naivete," he told the jury.

Watkins spent much of the first day of his defense hearing testimony from patients whose injuries improved with Derges' amniotic fluid injections. And importantly these patients claimed Derges never said stem cells were contained in the fluid.

Witness Marty Murray said she "immediately felt better" after the shot and claimed Derges described the amniotic fluid as a "911 call" for the body's own stem cells to activate.

But many of these witnesses struggled under cross-examination as federal prosecutors pointed out Derges presentation slides, Facebook posts, and a large billboard all claiming the assistant physician offered stem cells through the amniotic fluid injections.

The trial came to a head early Friday afternoon as the defense was unable to call any additional witnesses until after the weekend. The trial having already lasted two weeks, Judge Brian Wimes angrily called the attorneys to a sidebar.

"Its 1:30 p.m. and we have no witnesses and that is unacceptable," Wimes yelled over the whirring white noise meant to prevent the jury from hearing the exchange.

"I don't give a rat's tail," the judge said while speaking with the attorneys.

After excusing the jury to adjudicate the matter, Wimes decided to adjourn the case until Monday.

Five additional witnesses are expected to testify that day and Watkins promised to end his defense by noon. If that schedule remains on track, closing arguments will be given Monday afternoon and the jury will be set to their deliberations before end of day.

This article originally appeared on Springfield News-Leader: 'Naïve but relentless' — defense attorney outlines case in Derges trial