SPRINGFIELD (CBS/AP) — Two former administrators of a Massachusetts veterans home where nearly 80 people sickened by the coronavirus died pleaded not guilty Thursday to criminal charges over their handling of the outbreak. Former Holyoke Soldiers’ Home Superintendent Bennett Walsh and former Medical Director Dr. David Clinton entered the pleas during a remote hearing in Hampden Superior Court in Springfield.

Judge Edward McDonough released them without bail and with no conditions until their next court date in February.

The two each face 10 counts — five counts of criminal neglect and five counts of serious bodily injury —  stemming from their March decision to cram residents who were positive for the coronavirus into the same space as those with no symptoms. If convicted they both could be looking at multi-year prison sentences.

They were charged in September with abuse, neglect or mistreatment of an elderly or disabled person, among other counts.

Bennett Walsh and Dr. David Clinton, charged in the coronavirus outbreak at Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, appear in court (WBZ-TV)

An independent report commissioned by the state said “utterly baffling” decisions made by administrators allowed the virus to spread unchecked at the veterans home. Walsh, who resigned, has argued they’re being scapegoated by state officials.

At least 76 veterans died from the virus over 11 weeks, and many more residents and staff were sickened.

Attorney General Maura Healey said this is believed to be the first criminal case in the United States brought against nursing home officials during the pandemic.

(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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