CNN, WSYX, WBNS
By Amir Vera, CNN
The trial of a Columbus, Ohio, doctor accused of overprescribing pain medication to multiple patients near death began Tuesday.
Dr. William Husel was initially indicted on 25 counts of murder in 2019. He is now facing 14 counts after Franklin County Judge Michael Holbrook granted the prosecution’s motion to dismiss 11 counts in January, according to CNN affiliate WBNS-TV.
Husel has pleaded not guilty.
Jury selection for Husel’s trial began February 14 and ended Wednesday, according to CNN affiliate WSYX-TV. Seven women and five men were selected to sit on the jury. There are six alternates in the case, made up of five women and one man, the affiliate reported.
The opening day of the trial saw the prosecution call Columbus Police Detective William Gillette as a summary witness. Defense attorney Jose Baez cross-examined Gillette for two hours, peppering the detective repeatedly about his fractured memory of the case and suggesting the investigation intentionally targeted Husel.
Gillette appeared uncomfortable and frustrated at times during the cross-examination.
The trial was originally set for 2020, but the Covid-19 pandemic and an election that changed the prosecution team pushed proceedings to this year, according to WSYX.
Here’s a look at everything that has led to the trial:
6-month investigation led to doctor’s firing
The Mount Carmel Health System initially said the hospital received a report related to Husel’s care on October 25, 2018. The hospital system removed Husel from patient care a month later, on November 21.
In that period, three people died “after receiving excessive and potentially fatal doses of medication” ordered by the doctor, the hospital said in a statement. In total, “at least” 34 patients were affected by Husel’s actions, said Ed Lamb, the Mount Carmel CEO and president at the time.
Of the 34 patients affected, 28 received excessive and potentially fatal doses of medication, a hospital spokeswoman said at the time. Six others who died received excessive doses that went beyond providing comfort but that were not believed to be the cause of their deaths.
Husel was fired December 5, 2018. Indictment documents would later allege the patient deaths took place between February 2015 and November 2018.
The same month he was fired, an investigation into Husel began when an attorney representing Mount Carmel reached out to the Franklin County prosecutor’s office.
During their initial conversations, the attorney said a doctor — later identified as Husel — was “administering doses of fentanyl at a level that they internally believed were inappropriate and not for a legitimate medical purpose,” said Ron O’Brien, who was the Franklin County prosecutor at the time.
Fentanyl is an opioid used to treat patients with chronic severe pain or severe pain after surgery, according to the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Fentanyl is considered a “Schedule II controlled substance” similar to morphine, “but about 100 times more potent,” the DEA says.
“Following the discovery of the actions of Dr. Husel, we notified appropriate authorities, including law enforcement,” Lamb said.
The State Medical Board of Ohio voted in January 2019 to suspend Husel’s osteopathic medicine and surgery license, according to CNN affiliate WSYX-TV.
Husel was indicted in June 2019. He posted the $1 million bail the same month, according to WSYX.
The investigation also found that the doses, which ranged from 500 to 2,000 micrograms, “were designed to hasten the death of the patients that were being treated,” O’Brien said. A potentially lethal dose of fentanyl is 2 miligrams (2,000 micrograms), according to the DEA.
O’Brien lost his election in November 2020 to Gary Tyack, according to the Franklin County Board of Elections results.
Lamb resigned as president and CEO or Mount Carmel in July 2019, WSYX reported.
Victim’s family upset about dropped charges
Prosecutors declined to say why they filed a motion to dismiss 11 of the 25 counts, according to CNN affiliate WBNS-TV.
Reporting by the station revealed the 11 cases dismissed from the trial were patients who received smaller doses of fentanyl — 1,000 micrograms or less. The 14 remaining cases involved patients who received 1,000 micrograms or more.
“It doesn’t make sense. It’s not enough? It was enough to kill her but it’s not enough to prosecute him,” said Nicole Thomas, daughter of Jan Thomas, whose case was one of the 11 that were dropped.
Jan Thomas died in March 2015, WBNS reported. Her family was told three years later that her death may have been caused by too much fentanyl. Her medical records showed she received 800 micrograms of fentanyl, according to WBNS.
“It is shocking that this is happening. I am completely shocked and disappointed in the whole judicial system,” said Sean Thomas, son of Jan Thomas.
“Every time this is covered, she dies again,” Sean Thomas said. “Every time her name flashes in the story — it’s back in the news. There is movement in the case. She dies all over again. And now to hear that 11 of these cases were dismissed, she is dying all over again.”
Families say relatives received excessive doses of fentanyl
Chris Allison told CNN her husband, Troy Allison, started having trouble breathing one night in the summer of 2018, something she said was a first.
Troy, who suffered from diabetes, told his wife to call an ambulance. Paramedics checked his vitals, and Chris Allison said they told her husband his sugar was a little high and they’d take him to Mount Carmel as a precaution.
At the hospital, Troy suffered multiple heart attacks in the emergency room, according to medical records from the plaintiff’s attorneys. Troy was taken to the ICU where the night shift doctor, Husel, told Chris Allison her husband was brain dead and his organs were shutting down.
Husel told Chris Allison he’d like to give her husband something that made him comfortable.
A short time later, Troy was dead.
“It just wasn’t adding up,” Chris Allison told CNN.
Months after his death, Chris said, she got a call from the hospital saying Troy had been given an overdose, receiving 1,000 micrograms of fentanyl from Husel.
“They said they’re going to give him something to make him comfortable. Then fine, give him something. He didn’t say ‘I’m going to give him 1,000 micrograms of fentanyl and he’ll be dead before you enter the room.’ That would’ve been a different conversation,” Chris Allison said.
Many of the families of patients who spoke with WBNS in 2019 shared similar stories. Their loved ones were on ventilators and in intensive care — and in some cases, the families were encouraged by hospital staff or Husel to change the status of their loved ones to “do not resuscitate.”
Lisa Hayes told WBNS in 2019 she found her brother, Ryan Hayes, unresponsive. Health records show he had suffered cardiac arrest and was taken to Mount Carmel West Hospital on April 2, 2017, where he was stabilized. But Ryan Hayes died a few days later, at the age of 39.
Records obtained by WBNS revealed Hayes received 2,000 micrograms of fentanyl along with 10 milligrams of the pain reliever Dilaudid and 2 milligrams of Versed, a drug used to cause drowsiness before surgery.
“He got substantially more than what anyone should ever get,” defense attorney Terry Hummel told the affiliate at the time.
Sue Hodge was admitted to Mount Carmel in April 2018 because her family thought she had a heart attack, but it was later found that was not the case. Hours after being admitted, she was dead after receiving 800 micrograms of fentanyl under Husel’s care, her sons told WBNS.
Doctor filed defamation suit against hospital system
Husel filed a lawsuit against Mount Carmel in December 2019 stating he “has suffered perhaps the most egregious case of defamation in Ohio’s recent history.”
It claims Mount Carmel, Lamb and Trinity Health Corporation, the parent company of Mount Carmel, knowingly made false and defamatory statements to the media multiple times.
The lawsuit asked for “far greater than” $50,000 in presumed and actual damages, along with punitive damages and attorney’s fees for defamation and breach of contract.
The lawsuit states Husel followed hospital policy for administering medication and the deaths were all caused by “natural causes after the removal of full life support.”
“The hospital knew full well that no policies were violated because the actual policies in effect explicitly permitted and encouraged the care Dr. Husel and the nurses provided to patients undergoing palliative withdrawal,” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit says Mount Carmel and Trinity refused to provide Husel with a defense lawyer that he said they agreed to provide under his employment contract.
The “false accusations destroyed Dr. Husel’s life,” the lawsuit said.
In a statement to CNN, Mount Carmel Health System said the allegations by Husel were “unfounded.”
Baez, Husel’s defense attorney, told CNN the defamation suit is on hold, pending the outcome of the criminal trial.
Nurses and pharmacist are also suing hospital system
Nine nurses and a pharmacist who worked with Husel also filed lawsuits against Mount Carmel.
The plaintiffs claim in their 145-page lawsuit that Mount Carmel, Lamb and Trinity Health Corporation fired those who worked with Husel for their alleged complicit behavior in following through with Husel’s prescriptions.
The suit alleges the hospital system changed its policies concerning medication dosage that risked patient care for the purpose of protecting its image.
Through these acts and the hospital’s media relations campaign managing the scandal, the hospital defamed their reputation and made it difficult for them to find new jobs, the former employees said in the lawsuit.
Plaintiffs are asking for a minimum of $25,000 per person, but ideally want their “respective salaries at the time of termination,” according to the lawsuit. They are also asking for the cost of tuition for nursing school or advanced clinical degrees, as well as punitive damages and attorney’s fees.
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CNN’s Bonney Kapp, Jean Casarez, Taylor Romine and Augusta Anthony contributed to this report.