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A jury in Ohio on Wednesday found William Husel, a former doctor prosecutors accused of murdering 14 critically ill patients by prescribing lethal doses of fentanyl to “hasten” death, not guilty on all counts.
Husel was found not guilty on 14 counts of murder in a trial that started in February 2022 after initially being delayed for more than a year because of the Covid-19 pandemic and a change in the prosecution team.
The decision follows a week of deliberations and after a judge on Tuesday told jurors to keep deliberating after they said they were deadlocked.
Husel, who pleaded not guilty, was first indicted in Franklin County in June 2019 on charges that he intentionally killed 25 intensive care patients at Mount Carmel West hospital from 2015 to 2018 by overprescribing them fentanyl, with 11 of the counts dropped before the trial.
Husel’s defense attorney, Jose Baez, argued the Ohio doctor was caring for his patients and trying to ease pain in their last months of life. Prosecutors, meanwhile, argued the painkiller prescriptions were excessive and illegitimate.
“If you hasten a person’s death, even if their death is as sure as the sun is going to rise in the morning, if you hasten that along, you have caused their death under the eyes of the law,” the county prosecutor David Zeyen said in closing arguments.
The Mount Carmel Health System first received a formal report raising concerns about Husel’s medical care in October 2018. The doctor was fired two months later, during which time three people died after receiving lethal doses of fentanyl, according to the hospital. Mount Carmel then got in touch with the Franklin County prosecutor’s office to launch an investigation into the doctor’s behavior. The probe revealed that the Ohio doctor was prescribing doses of fentanyl— which is sometimes used to help relieve pain in end-of-life care settings —that were “inappropriate” for medical purposes and used to “hasten” death, according to the county prosecutor at the time. The hospital has said that as many as 35 people may have been prescribed excessive fentanyl doses, and five of them possibly could have recovered from their illnesses. Experts at Husel’s trial testified that the doctor at times gave patients 10 times the amount of fentanyl than was typical for palliative care settings, according to NBC News, with doses ranging between 500 to 2,000 micrograms, enough to kill an elephant, one expert testified, according to the Columbus Dispatch. The patients who died under Husel’s care— some of whose families testified during the trial —ranged in age from 37 to 82, some of whom were comatose, had cancer or multiple organ failures. Husel was facing life in prison if he was found guilty of one of the 14 murder charges.
More than $20 million. That’s how much Mount Carmel Health System has paid to the families of Husel patients to settle suits against the hospital system.
Doctor accused of killing 14 patients with ‘excessive’ fentanyl doses (Washington Post)