CLARKSBURG, W.Va. – A former nursing assistant who confessed to utilizing insulin to homicide seven aged sufferers at a VA hospital will spend the remainder of her life in jail.
During a listening to Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Thomas Kleeh referred to as Reta Mays, 46, a monster of the “worst kind. You are the monster no one sees coming.” He delivered a life sentence for every homicide sufferer, plus 20 years for an eighth sufferer she tried to kill.
Mays sobbed as Kleeh sentenced her. When a U.S. marshal approached her after the listening to, she sat down and buried her head in her fingers, crying. She received up, and she or he was handcuffed and led out of the courtroom.
Mays will not be eligible for probation for the seven life sentences, Kleeh mentioned. She was ordered to pay restitution to the victims’ households.
The victims ranged in age from 81 to 96 and served in the Army, Navy and Air Force throughout World War II and wars in Korea and Vietnam. They died by the hands of the identical particular person, on the similar place, in the identical manner.
Mays pleaded guilty final 12 months to murdering the seven veterans and to assaulting an eighth with intent to homicide. The killings occurred on the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center from July 2017 to June 2018.
“Something always happens when I’m in the room, and I don’t know why,” Mays mentioned whereas sitting in a hospital room as employees tried to avoid wasting certainly one of her victims, based on Assistant U.S Attorney Jarod Douglas as he argued for a stiff sentence.
After the listening to, the inspector basic on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs launched the outcomes of an investigation concluding that “serious, pervasive, and deep-rooted clinical and administrative failures” on the hospital allowed the killings to go undetected for almost a 12 months.
“While responsibility for these criminal acts clearly lies with Ms. Mays, the OIG found inattention and missed opportunities at several junctures, which, if handled differently, might have allowed earlier detection of Ms. Mays’ actions or possibly averted them altogether,” the inspector basic’s workplace concluded.
Nurses who kill: Medical murderers and the mystery of the Clarksburg VA hospital in West Virginia
Relatives of 5 of Mays’ victims spoke in the course of the listening to, some showing through video recordings and others addressing a crowded federal courtroom. They honored their family members, mirrored on their lives and expressed grief and anger over their loss. None mentioned they had been able to forgive Mays.
William Edge, a son of the primary sufferer, Robert Edge Sr., mentioned the sentence lastly delivered justice to victims’ households. “There will never be closure,” he mentioned on the steps of the courthouse. “But I don’t feel cheated or anything. This is finally justice.”
‘Why must you ever be let loose of jail to get pleasure from freedom?’
Robert Kozul “loved to dance, to sing and to play his harmonica,” Becky Kozul, his daughter-in-law, mentioned. “He loved life.”
She mentioned he cried when he discovered on Christmas in 2017 that he can be a great-grandfather. He by no means received to satisfy the kid. “You took all that away from him,” Becky mentioned.
Mays “confessed to killing seven men and ruining seven families by robbing us of our loved ones,” Becky mentioned. “Why should you ever be let out of prison to enjoy freedom?”
In a video assertion, Norma Shaw, the widow of George Shaw, mentioned her husband was “trapped in his own body” when Mays gave the Air Force veteran, who wasn’t diabetic, a deadly dose of insulin.
“I don’t know why Reta did what she did. I don’t know if we’ll ever know. But she took my life away from me,” Norma Shaw mentioned.
She met her eventual husband in 1959. Their first date was on Valentine’s Day at the Florida State Fair. They married months later in June.
Shaw mentioned they had been married nearly 59 years. They had three kids, 9 grandchildren, 23 great-grandchildren and 5 great-great grandchildren by marriage.
Shaw mentioned she struggled with whether or not she may forgive Mays. Maybe sooner or later.
Robert Edge Jr., one other son of Robert Edge Sr., mentioned he could not.
“Growing up, he was my hero,” Edge mentioned. “He took care of me when I was little, and when it was time for me to take care of him, you took that away from me.”
In a brief, tearful assertion, Mays mentioned she would not express regret “because I don’t think I could forgive anyone who’d do what I did.”
“There are no words I can say,” Mays mentioned. “I can only say that I’m sorry for the pain that I caused the families and my family.”
Judge: ‘You aren’t particular’
Jay T. McCamic, Mays’ protection lawyer, argued for a 30-year jail sentence, the low finish of sentencing tips. He mentioned Mays had a historical past of psychological well being points, together with post-traumatic stress dysfunction and sexual trauma, tied to her navy service and different occasions.
Kleeh mentioned Mays’ psychological well being diagnoses and traumatic experiences weren’t that extreme or unusual, particularly amongst veterans. “None of these other folks are killers, let alone serial killers,” he mentioned. “You are not special.”
Mays lied to investigators 3 times about her function in the lads’s deaths, Kleeh mentioned. She watched a Netflix present referred to as “Nurses Who Kill,” used her work laptop to look “female serial killers” and in contrast her tally with others’, Kleeh mentioned.
The choose made a degree of noting the victims’ service information.
“They were good and decent men loved not only by their families but by their communities, and to whom this country owes to each and every one of them a tremendous debt,” Kleeh mentioned.
Prosecutor: ‘This was all about management’
Douglas argued for a life sentence for every homicide sufferer as a result of Mays confirmed “extraordinary callousness” and acted in a calculated method.
“This was all about control,” Douglas mentioned. “These actions gave the defendant a sense of control.”
He dismissed any notion that the killings confirmed mercy to the ailing veterans, as he recommended Mays had claimed.
“Giving someone insulin that’s not prescribed to them is not merciful,” Douglas mentioned. He described the painful results the lads felt as their blood sugar ranges dropped. Edge was “thrashing around.” Shaw was agitated, sweating and had an elevated coronary heart fee. A nurse discovered Felix McDermott “with moist sheets, cold and clammy.”
Mays on a number of events informed employees that the lads had been in misery and took part in lifesaving efforts, Douglas mentioned.
She carried out chest compressions on one sufferer for greater than half an hour, Douglas mentioned. She then referred to as her husband, who was incarcerated, and complained that her arms “felt like rubber” after doing compressions for thus lengthy. Mays complained in Facebook messages about having to ship remedy that extended Shaw’s life, Douglas mentioned.
Inspector basic: Staff may have detected killing spree earlier
Mays was assigned to work in a single day shifts on Ward 3A, the hospital’s medical surgical unit, in July 2017 when sufferers started struggling mysterious, acute drops in blood sugar.
A USA TODAY investigation in 2019 discovered that a string of oversights at the hospital might have value veterans’ lives. Insulin wasn’t adequately tracked, and there have been no surveillance cameras on Ward 3A. Staff didn’t conduct assessments to determine why sufferers skilled extreme episodes of low blood sugar. Nor did they file experiences that would have triggered investigations.
The inspector basic’s investigation echoed these findings. It described oversights throughout Mays’ background examine, shoddy remedy monitoring and an absence of follow-up when the sufferers suffered lethal drops in blood sugar. There had been communication issues amongst caregivers, and the hospital’s tradition didn’t encourage employees to query care and report potential affected person hurt.
The inspector basic’s report mentioned the VA’s failures started with Mays’ hiring in June 2015 and didn’t cease till lengthy after the string of deaths was found in June 2018.
Mays had been accused of utilizing extreme power whereas working as a correctional officer on the West Virginia Department of Corrections from 2005 to 2012, however there’s no proof that VA hospital employees reviewed these employment information.
The federal Office of Personnel Management carried out a background examine and flagged points that would have disqualified her from being employed on the VA, however hospital employees didn’t doc any follow-up, the inspector basic’s workplace mentioned.
“Had they done so, it is possible that based on her conduct at the jail, she would not have been hired for, or retained in, a position at the facility that involved patient care,” the inspector basic’s workplace concluded.
A ‘spontaneous’ choice to kill with unsecured insulin
Insulin could be essential in preserving diabetics’ blood sugar in examine, however for non-diabetics and those that aren’t prescribed the remedy, it may be lethal, driving blood sugar too low.
Mays informed investigators she took insulin from the hospital ward, the place it wasn’t correctly tracked, and put it into saline mixtures that had been used to flush sufferers’ intravenous traces. In one case, she supplied a nurse with a syringe of saline tainted with insulin, which the nurse unwittingly administered to a affected person.
“Mays claimed that it was a spontaneous decision with each victim, that securing the insulin was not difficult, and that none of her supervisors or colleagues asked questions or otherwise appeared to be suspicious about her activities,” investigators from the inspector basic’s workplace wrote.
Insulin was saved in an unlocked fridge and left on carts in hallways, based on the inspector basic’s workplace.
After hospital leaders began to determine in June 2018 what Mays had accomplished, investigators visiting the hospital nonetheless discovered remedy wasn’t correctly secured. That prompted further warnings to employees about drug safety.
Hospital employees did not examine rash of unexplained low blood sugar
Robert Edge Sr. was the primary affected person to expertise a lethal drop in blood sugar when Mays labored the in a single day shift in July 2017. Then the tempo quickened. Seven sufferers died after extreme, unexplained low blood sugar in the primary six months of 2018.
By comparability, over 4 years, just one affected person per 12 months suffered acute hypoglycemia and died inside a month of discharge.
In spring 2018, 4 of the hypoglycemic occasions occurred inside three weeks. “That should have set off major alarm bells. Somebody should be asking the question and looking into it. They did not do so,” VA Inspector General Michael Missal mentioned at a information convention after the sentencing.
In Shaw’s case, docs ordered a take a look at, but it surely was the flawed one and the pattern was taken on the flawed time – after nurses had given him glucose to stabilize his blood sugar.
Some of the docs did not appear to learn about relevant lab assessments, and they didn’t seek the advice of endocrinologists, who specialize in diabetes and blood sugar.
The absence of follow-up was exacerbated by an absence of coordination between caregivers. Doctors assigned to the ward alternated weeks, and every day conferences usually centered on discharge planning.
“Had staff members used meetings and forums to discuss patient outcomes, or had staff consistently taken the initiative to communicate concerns to leaders, it is possible that the emerging pattern of events would have been discovered sooner,” the investigators wrote.
No affected person security experiences
Hospital employees didn’t file required incident experiences that would have triggered a deeper assessment and revealed Mays’ killings. The inspector basic’s workplace discovered docs and nurses didn’t know what to report and when.
Even because the ward ran out of glucose as nurses frantically tried to lift sufferers’ blood sugar in a cluster of circumstances, employees didn’t flag any potential issues.
By the time docs alerted supervisors in June 2018 to the string of suspicious deaths, eight sufferers had died. They notified an affiliate chief of employees who requested high quality managers to do additional testing and assessment what might need occurred. The hospital director – since changed – was on go away when he was notified and requested that the assessment proceed till he may very well be briefed when he returned.
At the top of June 2018, the director referred to as officers at headquarters, who notified the inspector basic that there was a possible “angel of death” on the Clarksburg VA.
VA pledges enhancements
The Department of Veterans Affairs mentioned in a press release final week that the company has made quite a lot of enhancements in response to the investigation by the inspector basic, an unbiased watchdog. They embody steps to extend care coordination between medical suppliers, bolster endocrinology referrals and evaluations and higher practice nursing employees on diabetes.
What occurred “was unacceptable, and we want to ensure veterans and families know we are determined to restore their trust in the facility,” the company mentioned.
The Clarksburg VA attracts sufferers from throughout the area, serving about 70,000 veterans in north-central West Virginia and close by Maryland, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
In December, the VA changed the hospital director and chief nursing government and retrained employees on important incident reporting. The hospital carried out a “safety stand-down” in which noncritical sufferers weren’t admitted for a number of weeks.
“People are satisfied now,” mentioned John Aloi, senior vice commander of VFW Post 573 in Clarksburg.
Wearing a black “United We Stand” masks after wrapping up a Monday evening assembly on the submit, Aloi mentioned veterans wished a measure of justice from the court docket listening to. Equally vital, he mentioned, are security reforms on the VA hospital.
“But the real test is how things go in the future,” he mentioned. “Once you lose belief, it’s laborious to get it again.”
Contributing: Ken Alltucker