Ohio doctor found not guilty in 14 hospital patient deaths

The Detroit News

Columbus, Ohio – A jury on Wednesday acquitted an Ohio doctor accused of ordering excessive amounts of painkillers that led to multiple patient deaths at a Columbus-area hospital following a weekslong trial.

Dr. William Husel was accused of ordering excessive painkillers for 14 patients in the Mount Carmel Health System. He was indicted in cases that involved at least 500 micrograms of the powerful painkiller fentanyl.

Former Mount Carmel Health doctor William Husel hugs his wife, Mariah Baird, after he was found not guilty on 14 counts of murder in connection with fentanyl overdose deaths of former patients on Wednesday, April 20, 2022 in Columbus, Ohio.

Prosecutors said ordering such dosages for a nonsurgical situation indicated an intent to end lives. Husel’s attorneys argued he was providing comfort care for dying patients, not trying to kill them.

Franklin County Judge Michael Holbrook told jurors before the start of deliberations that they could also consider lesser charges of attempted murder. They deliberated for six days.

Husel would have faced a sentence of life in prison with parole eligibility in 15 years had he been found guilty of just one count of murder.

Prosecutors presented their case beginning Feb. 22 and put on 53 prosecution witnesses before resting on March 29. Those witnesses included medical experts, Mount Carmel employees, investigators, and family members of all 14 patients.

By contrast, defense lawyers called a single witness – a Georgia anesthesiologist – to testify that Husel’s patients died from their medical conditions and not Husel’s actions. The defense rested on March 31 after one day.

The age of the patients who died ranged from 37 to 82. The first patient death was in May 2015. The last three died in November 2018.

During closing arguments April 11, David Zeyen, an assistant Franklin County prosecutor, told jurors that regardless of how close a patient is to death, it’s illegal to speed up the process.

Husel attorney Jose Baez said prosecutors hadn’t produced “a shred of evidence” to back up their claims.

Husel was fired by the Mount Carmel Health System. It concluded he had ordered excessive painkillers for about three dozen patients who died over several years. He was initially charged with 25 murder counts, but the judge in January agreed to dismiss 11 of those counts.

Husel’s colleagues who administered the medications weren’t criminally charged, but the hospital system said it fired 23 nurses, pharmacists and managers after its internal investigation and referred various employees to their respective state boards for possible disciplinary action.

Mount Carmel has reached settlements totaling more than $16.7 million over the deaths of at least 17 patients, with more lawsuits pending.