The trial of Dr. William Husel is being livestreamed each day on NBC4i.com and the NBC4 app. 4:45 p.m. update: Proceedings have ended for the day. The trial is expected to resume Tuesday at 9 a.m.
COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Proceedings at the start of the second week in the murder trial of former Mount Carmel Dr. William Husel ended just in time Monday for Dr. Wes Ely to catch a flight home to Tennessee.
Ely, a professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University and pulmonary and critical care medicine specialist, traveled to Columbus to testify in Husel’s murder trial Monday, where he discussed what he called a “mind-boggling” dose of fentanyl administered to Husel’s patients — but faced cross-examination from the defense that elicited Ely’s opposition to euthanasia.
Husel, 46, a former ICU doctor, is facing murder charges in the deaths of 14 patients who were under his care at the former Mount Carmel West hospital from 2015 to 2018. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
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Most of the patients who received fentanyl under Husel’s care received 1,000 micrograms of the opioid, one even receiving 2,000 micrograms — a dose that Dr. Wes Ely said would he would never administer “all at once” as it would likely “stop someone from breathing entirely” and “hasten death.”
Ely testified: “there is a maximum dose of fentanyl,” which depends on several factors, including the patient’s prior use of fentanyl and pain levels experienced by the patient.
“The maximum dose of fentanyl is when the harm outweighs the good,” Ely said.
As an ICU physician, Ely said he has provided some elderly patients with fentanyl, generally ranging from 12.5 micrograms to 50 micrograms of the painkiller “in a single dose,” he said.
When administering the drug, Ely said he starts with a lower dose and then assesses the patient’s response to the drug to determine if they need more.
“The highest dose of fentanyl I ever gave in a single case was 200 micrograms — to a person who had been receiving fentanyl for ten days, hourly,” he said. “I would never give even 300 micrograms in a single dose for fear of killing them.”
Prosecutor Paula Sawyers ran through the medical records of several former patients who died under Husel’s care, asking Ely to analyze the types of medications and health status of each patient.
James Timmons, a 39-year-old who arrived at Mount Carmel West suffering from compartment syndrome, a “surgical emergency” that Ely said deprives blood flow to your muscles, died Oct. 24, 2018 after being administered 1,000 micrograms of fentanyl and several other drugs from Husel.
Ely said Timmons, who had substance use disorder, did not need to be administered such a large dose of the drug and argued that there were other medical avenues that could have saved Timmons’ life.
“He could recover from that and live a life of recovery, like thousands, millions of people do all over the world, and I don’t understand why he couldn’t be given that chance,” he said.
Defense attorney Diane Menashe questioned Ely about practicing medicine as a pro-life Catholic, how much he was paid by the state of Ohio to be an expert witness for them, and the difference between opioids and opiates.
Ely said about the latter, while there are technical differences in the definitions of the two terms, they are used interchangeably in clinical settings.
While questioning Ely about his faith, Menashe read aloud part of a speech that Ely delivered at the Catholic Medical Association’s annual education conference in Nashville in attempts to demonstrate Ely’s opposition to euthanasia.
“By ending a person’s life, we destroy a person’s intrinsic worth,” Menashe said while reading Ely’s speech verbatim. “We turn a somebody into a nobody.”
Menashe also asked Ely about an award — “outstanding service to the pro-life movement” — that he won. Ely responded that the award was based on his “work with euthanasia.”
“But you don’t believe in euthanasia,” Menashe said.
“Right,” he said.
Menashe also emphasized that several of Husel’s patients were “actively dying” upon arrival to Mount Carmel West, including Francis Burke, a 73-year-old who was suffering from a blood clot in a lung artery, a brain hemorrhage and acute respiratory failure.
According to Burke’s medical records, which Menashe read aloud during her questioning of Ely, Burke’s chances for recovery were “essentially nil” even prior to receiving a dose of fentanyl.
“Family does not want the patient to receive chest compressions, especially since they understand that her condition is irreversible,” Menashe said as she repeated Burke’s medical records verbatim.
During the trial’s first week:
Defense and prosecuting attorneys fired a barrage of questions at several witnesses who took the stand in the first week of the trial.
- On Tuesday during opening statements, Husel’s defense attorney Jose Baez said Husel was providing the patients “comfort care.”
“There is no such thing as a medical murder case,” Baez said. “And that this is not a murder case, and it’s far from it. William Husel was exercising compassion to his patients and tried to free them of pain and let their last moments on Earth be ones of peace.”
- On Wednesday, defense and prosecuting attorneys questioned former Mount Carmel pharmacist Talon Schroyer, who was terminated from Mount Carmel Health System in July 2019.
Schroyer, who worked night shifts at Mount Carmel from 2017 to ’19, faced accusations of approving orders for potentially fatal doses of fentanyl for Husel’s patients, according to several wrongful death lawsuits filed by family members of patients who died under Husel’s care.
- On Thursday, more pharmacists took the stand, including Dr. Randal Miles, who was the Mount Carmel West pharmacy manager from 2015 to ’18. Miles stated Schroyer came to him with concerns over the amount of fentanyl Husel prescribed to a patient while he was on duty. Miles said he reported Schroyer’s concerns.
Also on Thursday, proceedings were paused for about two hours while Judge Michael Holbrook made inquiries about a juror potentially talking about the case while on break, which is prohibited.
- On Friday, Dr. Saad Hagras, an acute care physician, testified that he treated some of the same ICU patients as Husel and described his care of those patients. He was asked what he knew about how drugs he ordered were retrieved and administered, and he also described how doses of certain medications were given to patients.
Miles was also back on the stand Friday, answering questions from the defense about the pharmacy’s role in providing prescriptions to ICU patients.
Here are some of the individuals who may appear during the proceedings:
- Michael Holbrook
- Dr. William Husel
- Jose Baez
- Jaime Lapidus
- Diane Menashe
- Corinne Buker
- Paula Sawyers
- Taylor Mick
- David Zeyen
- Janet Grubb
- Powell Miller