COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — The murder trial against a former Mount Carmel doctor originally accused of killing 25 patients by prescribing excessive amounts of painkillers over 3½ years began Monday morning.
Dr. William Husel was in Franklin County court as jury selection began. He is facing 14 counts of murder.
Judge Michael Holbrook said the court should have a jury seated by Wednesday for a trial that is expected to last several weeks.
Monday’s jury pool started with more than 60 people who spent the day answering questions from Franklin County Assistant Prosecutor David Zeyen. Among those questions were, “Will you be able to sign your name to a guilty verdict?,” “Could you sign your name to a verdict form if the defendant purposely caused the death of another?,” and “Can you follow the law even if you personally have a different view of what the law should be?”
Holbrook’s staff attorney said the jury will consist of 12 jurors with six alternatives.
Prosecutors initially charged the 46-year-old — whose medical license was suspended in January 2019 — with 25 counts of murder for allegedly ordering fatal doses of fentanyl for critically ill patients. Prosecutors said in January that they would not pursue 11 of the cases.
Although the reason was not publicly given, it’s believed that prosecutors are focusing on the cases where they have the best evidence.
Husel, who pleaded not guilty in 2019, contends that he was providing comfort care to dying patients, not trying to kill them.
Court documents filed in January indicate that Husel’s defense team plans to prove that under Ohio law, a doctor administering “comfort care” to his patients — with the aim of diminishing their pain or discomfort — is immune from criminal prosecution.
But prosecutors have argued that Husel, who was only charged in cases involving 500 to 2,000 micrograms of fentanyl, administered painkiller doses so unusually large that he intended to kill his patients.
In the latest motion filed by the defense, on Jan. 31, Husel’s attorneys requested Judge Michael Holbrook prevent prosecutors from introducing evidence that could warrant lesser offenses, such as reckless homicide. Holbrook denied the defense’s motion on Feb. 4.
“As is the case with anyone charged with murder, whether the jury should receive an instruction on any lesser included offense depends on the facts adduced at trial,” Holbrook wrote.
Holbrook said once the jury is seated, the trial will be held four days a week. Last month, prosecutors said they anticipate the trial lasting seven weeks; defense attorneys said they are planning for eight weeks.