A six-month investigation into former Mount Carmel doctor William Husel concluded Wednesday with 25 counts of murder. That’s one of the largest murder cases in Ohio’s history.
Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien says his office, the cold case unit of the Columbus Division of Police and medical experts found Husel’s actions prematurely ended the lives of his patients.
“I likened it to the burning down of a candle,” O’Brien said at a Wednesday news conference. “That candle, while there may just be a half an inch of wax left, if I blow that candle out I’m causing that flame to go out sooner than it would naturally.”
The investigation began last December, when Mount Carmel fired Husel and reported him to the prosecutor’s office. Since then, the hospital identified 34 patients who were given excessive doses of fentanyl at Husel’s orders over a five-year period.
O’Brien is only bringing murder charges for the 25 instances where patients received 500 micrograms or more of fentanyl.
“The expert witnesses we talked to said with certainty that a dosage at that level could not support any legitimate medical purpose, and a dosage at that level would cause someone’s death,” O’Brien says.
O'Brien says the investigation did not reveal premeditation, so Husel won’t be charged with aggravated murder. That means he cannot face the death penalty. He does, however, face 15 years to life for each murder charge if convicted.
Husel turned himself in Wednesday morning wearing a suit, and appeared in court hours later wearing a tan jail uniform.
He pleaded not guilty to all 25 counts of murder, and his bond was set at $1 million.
“At no time did Dr. Husel ever intend to euthanize anyone – euthanize meaning speed up death,” Husel’s lawyer Richard Blake said Wednesday. “At no time did he have any intention of doing that.”
The question of intent will likely be a focus of Husel’s trial. And it's one that's resonating with many families members. Why did Husel give their loved ones such high doses when they hadn’t asked for them?
Some families have said Husel claimed the patients were brain dead and required medication to be comfortable at the end of life.
Mount Carmel later said that five patients may have been able to survive their conditions, including Amy Pfaff’s mother, Beverly Schirtzinger.
“Of course it makes it worse,” Pfaff says. “It’s never easy losing a loved one, but if she was already on her way, that’s one thing, but the fact that she possibly could have walked out makes it that much worse.”
Pfaff says she’s happy Husel is being charged with murder, even though the high-profile case brings up painful memories.
“The emotions never go away, you’re always thinking about her and thinking about what happened to her, but they kind of settle with every day life – work, being a wife, a mom – and then when stuff like this happens, it quickly rises to the surface again and the night she passed, all that swishes through your head again," Pfaff says.
Those emotions are likely to surface again in the coming months as both sides prepare for a legal fight. A trial date has yet to be set, while at least two dozen civil cases against Husel and Mount Carmel are on-going.
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