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Doctor Held on Suspicion of Killing Wife : Police Believe Neurosurgeon Administered Overdose of Painkiller

Times Staff Writer

A San Fernando Valley neurosurgeon was arrested by Los Angeles police Monday on suspicion of murdering his wife last May with a massive overdose of the pain-killing drug Demerol.

Dr. Stephen M. Levine, 42, was arrested by detectives at about 1:30 p.m. at his medical clinic at 21317 Devonshire St., Chatsworth, police said. His wife, Myrna, 29, died May 12, 1984, in the couple’s Tarzana home.

Police said they are continuing to investigate Levine’s older brother, Dr. David Levine, 43, an orthopedist, as a possible accessory to the murder. An affidavit filed in Van Nuys Municipal Court by police last fall alleges that David Levine, also of Studio City, conspired with his brother to cover up Myrna Levine’s death.

Partners in Clinic

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The brothers are partners in the Chatsworth clinic and in La Cienega Medical Group, 3344 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles, police said. Stephen Levine also operates an office at 8920 Wilshire Blvd. and is on the staff of several major Los Angeles-area hospitals, including Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

Police said they intend to present the murder case against Stephen Levine to the district attorney’s office by Wednesday. They will also seek multiple prescription violation counts against the physician, Lt. Bill Gaida said. Levine, who has since moved to Studio City, was being held without bail at the West Valley Division jail, officers said.

For more than a year, police have worked closely with the medico-legal unit of the district attorney’s office and had planned to delay the arrest of Stephen Levine until charges were filed against him. But unhappy with repeated delays in filing the case, Deputy Police Chief Dan Sullivan ordered Monday’s arrest, sources close to the investigation said.

Called Unusual

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“I think it’s little unusual that they would arrest someone without consulting us after working so long,” district attorney spokesman Al Albergate said Monday.

He noted that the deputy district attorney originally assigned to the case had requested a transfer. But Albergate declined to elaborate on his office’s position on the case.

According to the police affidavit, Stephen Levine found his wife dead in bed and called his brother. David Levine arrived and pronounced his sister-in-law dead and wrote a death certificate listing the cause of death as cardiac arrest due to seizure disorder and metabolic electrolyte imbalance, the document said.

Neither brother informed paramedics or police of the death, which came to the attention of authorities the next day after the dead woman’s sister and brother, Carol and George Gonzalez , delivered three empty bottles of Demerol to detectives, according to the affidavit.

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The document said an autopsy detected a level of Demerol 24 to 48 times the amount that would be present under normal medical use. The coroner’s office also found numerous puncture wounds and other signs of prolonged narcotics use, the affidavit said.

Addiction Theory

Police allege that the doctor procured drugs to support his wife’s addiction to Demerol, a narcotic painkiller, by writing prescriptions for a patient named Robert Kaufman.

Investigators found that Stephen Levine had written more than 115 prescriptions for Demerol to that name, according to the affidavit, which stated that the address given for Robert Kaufman was a Los Angeles residence found by investigators to have been vacant since March, 1983.

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Several pharmacists identified Stephen Levine as the man who picked up the Demerol, the document said.

A spokesman for the Board of Medical Quality Assurance said the agency will follow its usual policy of waiting until criminal proceedings are resolved before continuing with its own investigation against Stephen Levine. Until that time, he can continue to practice medicine, the spokesman said.


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