Ohio doctor acquitted in 14 high-dose fentanyl deaths

A jury on Wednesday acquitted an Ohio doctor accused of ordering excessive amounts of painkillers that led to the deaths of several patients at a Columbus-area hospital following a week-long trial.

Dr William Husel was charged with ordering the drugs for 14 patients from the Mount Carmel Health System. He has been charged in cases involving at least 500 micrograms of the powerful painkiller fentanyl.

Prosecutors said ordering such doses for a non-surgical situation indicated an intent to end lives. Husel’s lawyers argued that he was providing comfort care to dying patients, not trying to kill them.

Franklin County Judge Michael Holbrook told jurors before deliberations began that they could also consider lesser charges of attempted murder. They deliberated for six days.

Husel would have been sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole in 15 years if convicted of a single count of murder.

Prosecutors presented their case from February 22 and heard from 53 prosecution witnesses before resting on March 29. Those witnesses included medical experts who said Husel ordered up to 20 times more fentanyl than needed to control the pain.

Husel gave some patients enough fentanyl to “kill an elephant,” testified Dr. Wes Ely, a physician and professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University.

Other prosecution witnesses included medical experts, Mount Carmel employees, investigators and family members of the 14 patients.

In contrast, defense attorneys called only one witness – a Georgian anesthetist – to testify that Husel’s patients died from their medical conditions and not from Husel’s actions. The defense rested on March 31 after one day.

The ages of the deceased patients ranged from 37 to 82 years. The first patient death dates back to May 2015. The last three died in November 2018.

During closing arguments on April 11, David Zeyen, an assistant Franklin County prosecutor, told jurors that no matter how close a patient is to death, it is illegal to speed up the process.

Husel’s attorney, Jose Baez, said prosecutors had not produced “a shred of evidence” to back up their claims.

Husel was fired by Mount Carmel Health System. He concluded that he had ordered excessive painkillers for about three dozen patients who had died over several years. He was initially charged with 25 counts of murder, but the judge agreed to dismiss 11 of those counts in January.

Husel’s colleagues who administered the drugs have not been criminally charged, but the hospital system said it fired 23 nurses, pharmacists and managers after its internal investigation and referred various employees to their respective state boards for further investigation. possible disciplinary measures.

Mount Carmel has reached settlements totaling more than $16.7 million for the deaths of at least 17 patients, with other lawsuits pending.

One patient, 82-year-old Melissa Penix, was given 2,000 micrograms of fentanyl and died minutes later. Dr. John Schweig of Tampa Bay General Hospital testified for the prosecution that Penix “was certainly not terminal, and pursuing medical attention was not in vain.”

“She was a fighter,” Penix’s daughter Bev Leonhard of Grove City said, according to The Columbus Dispatch. “She didn’t deserve to die the way she did.”

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