A Franklin County judge on Thursday approved a request by county prosecutors to drop 11 of 25 murder counts against former intensive-care physician William Husel in an effort to streamline the case against a man accused of purposely killing critically ill patients with overdoses of the powerful opioid fentanyl at Mount Carmel Health hospitals.
Common Pleas Judge Michael J. Holbrook issued the ruling without comment after hearing comments in private from some of the family members of victims whose cases were to be dropped.
Victims, or their family members, must be given the chance to comment under provisions of Marsy’s Law, a victim’s rights amendment to the Ohio Constitution, approved by Ohio voters in 2017.
The proposed dismissals would eliminate murder counts charging Husel with causing the deaths of Emma Bogan, Jan Marlene Thomas, Norma J. Welch, Timothy Fitzpatrick, Michael Walters, Robert P. Lee, Thomas Matthews, Larry Brigner, Janet Kavanaugh, Charles Longstreth and Corrinnia Blake.
Assistant Prosecutor David Zeyen had requested any family comments about dismissals be made in private out of concerns that making the remarks publicly could taint the jury pool for the trial, which is scheduled to begin next month.
The judge asked if the media present would be willing to not report what the family members of victims had to say if their comments were heard in open court. A Dispatch reporter told the judge that reporters could not agree to withholding statements that are made publicly in open court. Another media member agreed.
The judge ruled that those who wanted to speak could do so in private, some via video, rather than in open court, and temporarily recessed the hearing to hear their comments in chambers with only the court reporter present.
The 11 victims whose cases were dismissed:
• Emma Bogan, 75, of the Far West Side, died at 1:07 a.m. on Feb. 11, 2015, two minutes after she was given 400 micrograms of fentanyl and 4 milligrams of Versed. She was taken to the hospital on Feb. 10 with septic shock. Medical records indicate that a doctor explained the grave situation to family members and they decided to take her off the ventilator.
• Jan Marlene Thomas, 65, of the Far West Side, arrived in respiratory arrest on Feb. 28, 2015, and was diagnosed with multi-embolic stroke. She was given 800 micrograms of fentanyl at 12:11 a.m. March 1 and died at 12:42 a.m. Medical records indicate her family had asked that she be removed from the ventilator.
• Norma J. Welch, 85, of the South Side, was admitted April 30, 2015, for progressive weakness after a fall. She was given 500 micrograms of fentanyl at 11:57 May 3, then 400 micrograms of fentanyl at 12:10 May 4. She died 20 minutes later. Her family arrived at 12:05 a.m., between doses.
• Timothy Fitzpatrick, 55, of Downtown, arrived Sept. 30, 2017, with suspected chronic heart failure. Medical records indicate that Husel ordered 1,000 micrograms of fentanyl on Oct. 9, but the pharmacist mentioned the fentanyl shortage and the doctor agreed to 500 micrograms. He was given the drug at 9:03 p.m. and died at 9:10.
• Michael Walters, 57, was admitted Oct. 6, 2017, with acute brain swelling and respiratory failure. The family was encouraged to change his status to “do not resuscitate” and agreed. He was given 500 micrograms of fentanyl at 4:11 a.m. Oct. 11, and died eight minutes later.
• Robert P. Lee, 70, of Upper Sandusky — the one patient who died at Mount Carmel St. Ann’s Hospital — arrived there Oct. 12, 2017, in cardiac arrest. Medical records indicated that a conversation was held with his spouse, who agreed not to have him resuscitated if his heart stopped. Lee was given 500 micrograms of fentanyl at 8:01 a.m. Oct. 13 and died at 8:20 p.m.
• Thomas Mathews, 61, of Columbus, was admitted Nov. 12, 2017, due to sepsis. He was given 500 micrograms of fentanyl at 8:28 p.m. Nov. 20 and died at 10:40 p.m.
• Larry Brigner, 70, of the South Side, was admitted Dec. 10, 2017, due to an altered mental state related to a history of cancer. A doctor’s note said he discussed Brigner’s grim prognosis, and the family decided to withdraw care. He was given 500 micrograms of fentanyl and 4 milligrams of Versed at 10:36 p.m. and died 5 minutes later.
• Janet Kavanaugh, 79, of Grove City, arrived Nov. 25, 2017, with weakness and confusion. She was admitted to the intensive-care unit in cardiac arrest. Medical records indicate her family decided to withdraw care. She was given 1,000 micrograms of fentanyl at 5:45 a.m. and died at 6:03 a.m.
• Charles Longstreth, 67, of Newark, arrived March 23, 2018, in cardiac arrest. On March 25, he received 6 milligrams of Versed at 9:29 p.m. and 500 micrograms of fentanyl at 9:30 p.m. He died at 9:45 p.m.
• Corrinnia Blake, 55, of Marysville, arrived Sept. 17, 2018, with abdominal pain and fever. She was given 500 micrograms of fentanyl and 6 milligrams of Versed at 8:25 p.m. Sept. 25 and died an hour later.
Husel, 46, and defense attorney Jose Baez attended the hearing through a video link from Miami, Fla. Husel, who did not speak, has been free on $1 million bond since shortly after his arrest in June 2019. His medical license was suspended by the State Medical Board of Ohio after his indictment, and he allowed it to expire without renewal.
Jury selection for Husel’s trial is scheduled to begin with groups of 325 potential jurors summoned to appear either Feb. 2, 3 or 4 to fill out questionnaires about their knowledge of the case and whether they would be available for a weeks-long trial.
The trial itself is scheduled to begin on Feb. 14.
A Franklin County grand jury indicted Husel in June 2019 on charges that he intentionally killed 25 intensive-care patients at Mount Carmel Health hospitals from February 2015 through November 2018 by prescribing each of them at least 500 micrograms of fentanyl.
His defense team contends that he was providing comfort care to terminally ill patients in their final hours and not attempting to shorten their lives.
County Prosecutor Gary Tyack told The Dispatch in January 2021, shortly after taking office, that he favored dismissing some of the counts against Husel and proceeding “with a small number of cases.”
The indictment was obtained by his predecessor, Ron O’Brien, the county’s longest-serving prosecutor, who was defeated by Tyack in the November 2020 election.
Investigators originally reviewed 35 cases of patients whose intensive-care deaths while under Husel’s care during a four-year period were considered suspicious. O’Brien’s office chose 25 — one that occurred at Mount Carmel St. Ann’s Hospital in Westerville and the rest at the former Mount Carmel West hospital in Franklinton — that were presented to a grand jury for indictment.
If Husel is convicted, Tyack told the newspaper, he “can only serve so many life terms … We should not spend hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars in county money to incarcerate a man for more lifetimes than he has.”
Each of the murder counts filed against Husel carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole for at least 15 years.