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On Wednesday, a jury acquitted Dr. William Husel, 46, on murder charges. He was accused of prescribing large quantities of fentanyl, the painkiller. As a result, many patients died. These deaths happened at a hospital in Columbus, Ohio.
Dr. Husel was accused of ordering the medication for 14 people in the Mount Carmel Health System in Ohio. He was formally charged for cases that involved fentanyl dosages of at least 500 micrograms.
The prosecution stated that prescribing those doses for a situation that is nonsurgical shows an intent to kill people. Dr. Husel’s lawyer argued that his client was trying to make the dying patients comfortable, not attempting to kill them.
Witnesses for the Prosecution
Judge Michael Holbrook from Franklin County told the jurors before they began deliberation that they were allowed to consider a lesser charge of attempted murder. The deliberation took six days.
If Dr. Husel would have been found guilty of one count of murder, he would have faced life in prison with eligibility for parole after 15 years.
The prosecutors brought their case in front of the judge on February 22. Fifty-three prosecution witnesses took the stand before resting their case on March 29. Some of the witnesses were medical experts who testified that the doctor prescribed 20 times too much fentanyl that was needed to manage pain.
Dr. Husel ordered enough painkillers to “kill an elephant,” testified Dr. Wes Ely, a physician and a professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University.
Other witnesses for the prosecutors included investigators, Mount Carmel employees, medical professionals, and the 14 patient’s family members.
The lawyers for Dr. Husel called one witness, an anesthesiologist from Georgia. They testified that Dr. Husel’s patients died from other medical conditions and not of his actions.
Dr. Husel’s side rested their case on March 31 after one day of testimonies.
Patient Age Range
The patients who died were between 37 and 82 years old. The first patient died in May 2015. The last three patients passed away in November 2018.
At the time of closing arguments on April 11, David Zeyen, the assistant to Franklin Couty Prosecutor, told jurors that no matter how close a person is to death, it is illegal to kill them faster.
Dr. Husel’s attorney stated that prosecutors have not given any evidence to support their claims.
The doctor was terminated from the Mount Carmel Health System in Ohio because he prescribed excessive narcotics to many patients who died over many years. Dr. Husel was originally charged with 25 counts of murder. The judge dismissed 11 counts in January.
The colleagues of Dr. Husel who gave the medications were not charged with criminal matters. However, 23 people including nurses, pharmacists, and managers were terminated by the facility after the investigation. Many employees were referred to the state board for possible disciplinary actions.
Ohio State Medical Board
The Ohio health system has gotten settlements that total out to over $16.7 million in regards to the death of 17 patients. More lawsuits are pending at this time.
One of the patients who died was 86-year-old Melissa Penix. She was given 2,000 micrograms of fentanyl and passed away minutes later. Dr. John Schweif testified that Penix was not terminally ill and was continuing medical care pointlessly.
Penix’s daughter stated that her mother was a fighter and that she did not deserve to die that way.
Dr. Husel’s medical license was suspended by the Ohio State Medical Board,in January 2019. The decision was based on the alleged failure to meet the acceptable standards in regards to the selected drugs, violations of the smallest care standards, and failure to cooperate in an investigation led by the board.
Written by Marrissa Kay
Edited by Cathy Milne-Ware
Associated Press: Ohio doctor found not guilty in 14 hospital patient death
People: Dr. William Husel, Accused of Killing 14 Patients with Fentanyl, Is Acquitted on All Counts; by Steve Helling
NBC News: William Husel, Ohio doctor accused in 14 high-dose fentanyl deaths, acquitted of murder; by Erik Ortiz
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