COLUMBUS, Ohio — A jury has acquitted a former Mount Carmel doctor accused of ordering excessive amounts of painkillers that led to multiple patient deaths.
Dr. William Husel was found not guilty on all 14 counts of murder against him Wednesday after nearly two months since the trial began.
The verdict comes after roughly six days of deliberations. The jury was given the case after nearly seven weeks of testimony, during which jurors heard from 54 witnesses.
Attorney Jose Baez held a virtual news conference shortly after the verdict, where he told reporters: “The truth was William Husel was an innocent, but it was incredible difficult and he was wrongly charged and thankfully justice prevailed it was very difficult a and challenging case.”
After the verdict was read in court Wednesday morning, Husel and attorney Diane Menashe could both be seen getting emotional. Menashe later told reporters about their encounter:
“No words for that. I hope that right now William is starting to get his life back. And truly my tears of joy were for William and nothing to do with me or Jose or the team or what a win means professionally. It was what a win for William Husel that he can start to get his life back,” Menashe said.
Throughout the nine-week trial, Husel’s legal defense team has argued that Husel was providing comfort care to dying patients when he ordered doses of fentanyl and other drugs, but prosecutors argued his doses were unnecessary and ultimately hastened his patients’ deaths.
“For me this was about intent,” Menashe said. “Did William Husel ever intend to kill any of his patients? Not just these 14 but anyone that he ever treated? And I believe the jury clearly spoke to that and so did the evidence that he did all these life-saving measures … whether it was CPR or intubating patients. Certainly, his last effort was never to kill or hasten anyone’s death. His intent was to provide comfort care.”
On Monday, the jury told the judge they were at an impasse and unable to reach a verdict. Judge Michael Holbrook gave them a charge to resume their deliberations.
Jurors were given the option to choose between murder or a lesser charge of attempted murder. Ultimately, jurors found Husel not guilty on all counts.
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.
He was initially charged with 25 murder counts, but the judge agreed to dismiss 11 of those counts in January.
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.
The first five weeks of the trial were spent listening to testimony from 53 witnesses, some of whom were family members of those 14 patients. The defense rested after calling just one witness to the stand during the trial’s sixth week.
In a statement, the Franklin County Prosecutor's Office said they accept the jury verdict.
"The State of Ohio v. William Husel was carefully tried and prepared by both the Prosecution and the Defense," the statement said. "The Jury after review of all the evidence was not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that William Husel was guilty of any charges submitted to them."
Gerry Leesberg, an attorney representing the patients, said that his staff issued notices and subpoenas to Dr. Husel to appear for deposition.
He hopes that the deposition can reveal the reasoning behind Dr. Husel's decision to order doses of fentanyl.
"Dr. Husel is going to have to defend what he did and not just sit back at the table and allow his lawyer to speak on his behalf," Leesberg said.
Mount Carmel fired Husel in December 2018 after questions were raised about his patient care. He has filed his own defamation lawsuit against Mount Carmel Health System over his firing.
To date, the hospital has paid out more than $20 million in legal settlements to the families of patients. Several wrongful death claims still remain pending.
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.
Following the verdict, Mount Carmel Health Systems released a statement, which read:
“Our thoughts continue to be with the patients’ families. It’s never been our role to determine whether the defendant’s actions in these cases were criminal. Our role has always been to live up to our core values, beliefs and mission as a healthcare provider. That’s why we took action regarding our concerns with the doses in these cases and shared the information we had with local authorities and impacted families.
We have extensive measures in place designed to prevent anything like this from ever happening again in our health system. We are fully committed to patient safety and will take action whenever patient safety is at issue. We are grateful for the more than 9,000 Mount Carmel colleagues working every day to provide safe, high-quality and compassionate care to the patients we serve.”
Reporters get rare access to jury room
Reporters who have been covering the murder trial were given rare access to the jury room following the acquittal of Husel. On the walls were large pieces of paper indicating the medical histories, dosages and other information about the patients tied to this case.
It was clear that jurors – based on what the court and defense attorney Diane Menashe told us – that they were deadlocked along the way but managed to work through that impasse and come to a resolution – a verdict which they announced Wednesday morning following the nine-week trial.