Ex-employee pleads guilty in 7 VA deaths
Nursing assistant gave vets lethal insulin doses
WASHINGTON – A former nursing assistant pleaded guilty Tuesday to federal murder charges in connection with a string of insulin deaths at a veterans hospital in West Virginia.
Federal prosecutors say Reta Mays injected lethal doses of insulin into eight veterans at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center in rural Clarksburg, causing their blood sugar levels to drop to dangerously low levels. Seven died shortly after.
The 46-year-old was charged with seven counts of second-degree murder and one count of assault with intent to commit murder, according to charging documents unsealed Tuesday. She faces life imprisonment. Her attorneys did not respond to requests for comment.
“Nothing we have done will bring your loved ones back,” Bill Powell, U.S. attorney in West Virginia, said at a press conference. “But we do hope that the work of these agents and prosecutors honored the memory of your loved ones in a way that they so justly deserved and, in some small fashion, assuage the anguish you
The development comes two years after a criminal investigation into suspicious deaths of 10 veterans at the hospital began. All patients were elderly veterans staying in the hospital’s surgical unit, known as Ward 3A. All suffered unexplained drops in their blood sugar levels.
Mays began working at the hospital five years ago and was assigned to work the night shift in Ward 3A. As a nursing assistant, Mays was responsible for, among other things, acting as a oneon-one sitter for patients, checking vital signs and testing blood sugar levels, but she was not qualified to administer medication, including insulin.
Her motive remains unclear. USA TODAY reported in October that hospital staff missed opportunities to figure out what was happening, which may have risked veterans’ lives and limited evidence in the probe. The hospital didn’t adequately track insulin, and there were no surveillance cameras on the ward, according to employees.
By the time a doctor alerted hospital supervisors of the deaths in June 2018, at least eight patients had died under suspicious circumstances. Several had been embalmed and buried, destroying potential evidence. One veteran had been cremated. Many of the bodies had to be exhumed for a medical examiner to perform autopsies.
Mays appeared in court for a plea hearing Tuesday, repeatedly saying
“Yes, sir” to the judge’s questions, including whether she understood the terms of her plea deal. At times, her body shook and her voice trembled beneath the white mask she was wearing.
Michael Missal, inspector general for the Department of Veteran Affairs, said his agency is conducting an investigation of the hospital’s policies and procedures.
Missal said investigators identified Mays as a person of interest shortly after officials were notified of the suspicious deaths in 2018. She was fired in July of that year.
Powell, the U.S. attorney, said Mays denied wrongdoing until recently, when she realized the mounting evidence against her.
Felix Kirk McDermott, 82, and George Nelson Shaw Sr., 81, died in April 2018. The Army Forces medical examiner ruled that both men died by homicide by insulin injection.
The other victims are Archie Edgell, 84; Robert Edge Sr., 82; Robert Kozul, 89; Raymond Golden, 88; and one identified in charging documents as W.A.H. USA TODAY reported last year that William Alfred Holloway, 96, died after suffering from severe hypoglycemia, a condition in which blood sugar levels plummet.
Some of the deaths were ruled “undetermined.”
Court records say Mays injected another veteran, identified in records as R.R.P., with insulin, although his blood sugar levels stabilized. The man, 92, died two weeks later, but the medical examiner was unable to tie his death to the injection.