COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Three days and a thorough analysis of the medical records of 14 ICU patients later, a Tampa physician captured most of the spotlight in the fifth week of testimony in the murder trial of former Mount Carmel Dr. William Husel.
Nearly 50 witnesses, ranging from family members of critically ill patients who later died at Mount Carmel to nurses who administered potentially lethal doses of painkillers, have taken the stand thus far at Franklin County Common Pleas Court in a trial that attorneys say could last eight weeks.
Husel, 46, has pleaded not guilty to murder charges in the deaths of 14 ICU patients who were under his care at the former Mount Carmel West from 2015 to 2018.
While prosecutors allege that Husel ordered excessive, fatal doses of the painkiller fentanyl for his patients, defense attorneys contend that the doctor was providing comfort care for critically ill patients as they were removed from the ventilator.
“There is no such thing as a medical murder case. And that this is not a murder case, and it’s far from it,” defense attorney Jose Baez said during the trial’s opening statements. “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.”
Dr. John Walther Schweiger, a Tampa anesthesiologist and critical care physician, took the stand as an expert witness for the prosecution on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday this week — in a testimony that featured a litany of technical medical terms about end-of-life care.
While reviewing the medical records of Husel’s former patients, Schweiger said that in 13 of the 14 cases he analyzed, Husel hastened or caused the patients’ deaths with the administration of large doses of the potent painkiller fentanyl and other narcotics.
One of the patients Schweiger was asked about was Danny Mollette, a 74-year-old who died under Husel’s care after receiving 1,000 micrograms of fentanyl in December 2017.
Schweiger said that Mount Carmel staff did not give Mollette, who suffered from diabetes and abnormally high blood pressure, enough time to determine whether the 74-year-old’s underlying symptoms would have been terminal.
He testified that there was no need for Husel to prescribe additional anxiety-reducing pain medications like Versed and Dilaudid, as Mollette was comatosed at the time he received the doses and thus could not feel pain.
“In my professional opinion, the intention was to rapidly terminate Mollette’s ability to breathe on his own and consequently hasten death,” Schweiger said.
While prosecuting attorneys threw similar questions at Schweiger for each of the 14 patients who died under Husel’s care — corresponding with his 14 counts of murder — defense attorneys honed in on medical records indicating that many of Husel’s patients were bound to die from underlying causes.
“The bleed will be fatal even with the most aggressive care,” defense attorney Diane Menashe read verbatim from the medical records of Francis Burke, a 73-year-old who died at Mount Carmel in January 2018.
Menashe also asked Schweiger whether there was any indication that Husel intended to kill the patients and whether any motive existed as to why Husel would want to hasten the lives of these patients.
“I do not see that documented in the record,” Schweiger answered.
The trial’s fifth week also included testimony from family members of Husel’s former patients, including Beverly Leonard, the daughter of Melissa Penix, 82, who died in November 2018 after receiving 2,000 micrograms of fentanyl — the largest dose of all the 14 patients.
Leonard, who said she visited her mother at Mount Carmel every day, testified that her family was put “in a state of shock” when Husel declared that Penix was “brain dead,” as the 82-year-old was reportedly talking just three hours before.
“How’d we get there? How’d that happen?” Leonard said while describing the moment Husel informed her of Penix’s condition.
Despite the lack of evidence outlining any clear-cut motive or intention to kill, Christine Allison, the wife of Troy Allison, who died at 44 years old under Husel’s care, vehemently took the offensive against the doctor who ordered what she said was a lethal dose of narcotics that served no therapeutic purpose.
In a contentious exchange with Allison, Menashe asked:
Menashe: “…you have a vested interest in the case, do you not?”
Allison: “Um, he killed my husband.”
Menashe: “And I realize that’s your belief…”
Allison: “No, it’s not my belief, that’s what happened. I was there, you were not.”
Menashe later questioned Allison about her pending lawsuits against Mount Carmel and Husel and interviews she has provided to the members of the media.
“I will tell anyone who wants to listen,” Allison said. “That hospital needs to be shut down, and that man needs to go to prison.”
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