October 10, 2002 at 7:18 PM EST - Updated July 12 at 4:27 AM
CLEVELAND – A jury ruled on Thursday that the Cleveland Clinic is not at fault for releasing a psychiatric patient who later stalked and killed 15-year-old Penny Chang, Action News' Wendy Gillette reported.
Penny's parents sued the Clinic for prematurely releasing the eventual murderer -- Scott Strothers. They claimed that the hospital, where Strothers was being treated for psychological problems, let him go too early from a therapist's care.
In March of 1999 -- less than four months after he was allowed to begin roaming the streets again -- Strothers shot and killed Penny (pictured, above) as she was walking to school. Months later, he was convicted of the crime.
The jury in the Chang civil trial, however, ruled in favor of the defendants -- the Clinic and one of its therapists. They said that the Clinic was not liable for the Shaker Heights teen-ager's death. That means the Chang family will not collect any money for the death of their daughter. They had been seeking $20 million in damages.
After a complex, weeklong trial, jurors reached their decision in less than three hours. Their ruling left the therapist, Reena Krell, crying tears of relief.
Penny's father, C.L. Chang, showed no emotion as the verdict was read and did not express disappointment afterwards.
"I never said that I should win or lose," he said.
C.L. added that his wife is glad they lost.
"She said it's too much money, more than we needed," he said. "It's not a good signal for the family."
The Changs said that they endured the difficult trial, not for money, but to try to keep something similar from happening to another family's little girl. Their attorney said that the intense media coverage might help accomplish that.
"There's probably some heightened awareness and perhaps education of the public of these types of situations," Chang family attorney Paul Kaufman said.
The man who chairs the Clinic's Psychiatric Department, however, said that the Chang case hasn't led to any fundamental changes.
"We did the best possible job," Dr. George Tesar said. "There's nothing else we could have done that would have changed the outcome of this, so we haven't changed our protocol."
"We believe the jury made the correct decision," Cleveland Clinic attorney Jim Malone said. "We've felt that way for a long time, and we pray the Chang family can now get on with the process of healing."
The jury did award the Changs $3 million to be paid by Strothers, but they will never see that money because of a deal that they made with him prior to the civil trial. They promised to never come after him for money in exchange for the release of his medical records.
Strothers had become obsessed with Penny and apparently misunderstood her courtesies and a single hug as meaning she was attracted to him, police said.
Strothers, who once roomed with Chang's brother at Ohio State University, was on probation in late 1998 for harassing the Chang family by setting their garage on fire, shooting out windows with a slingshot and putting glue in the car gas tank.