National news outlets have been watching one of the state’s largest murder cases involving Dr. William Husel, 46, who worked as a nighttime physician at the Intensive Care Unit of Mount Carmel West Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.
From February 2015 to November 2018, Husel was known to prescribe extremely high doses of fentanyl painkillers to his patients. Over the course of two and a half years, numerous deaths of patients occurred, which were documented by the Columbus Dispatch. The ages of the patients who died ranged from 37 to 82.
After questions were raised about patient care, Husel was fired on December 5, 2018. At that time, the hospital notified the State Medical Board of Ohio and met with the Franklin County prosecutor. After an internal system, the hospital system said it fired 23 nurses, pharmacists, and managers.
In the nine-week murder trial which concluded earlier this month, jurors considered whether Dr. Husel was providing compassionate “comfort care” to patients near death or was intentionally overdosing them to hasten their deaths. In their opening argument, Franklin County prosecutors stated that the case was not about “comfort care” but about a doctor’s abuse of sick people.
Ultimately, after six delays of deliberations, Husel was acquitted on 14 counts of murder. Although he had been charged in 2019 with 25 counts of murder, a county judge had dismissed 11 of the charges, for reasons that are still not clear.
Husel was defended by Jose A. Baez. If the name sounds familiar, Baez famously represented high-profile defendants Casey Anthony, Aaron Hernandez, and Harvey Weinstein. Baez argued that there was “no such thing as a medical murder case.”
For the family members of all of Dr. Husel’s victims, the verdict is disappointing. However, he still faces civil liability related to his patients’ deaths. The civil justice system often plays a significant role in bringing victims closure, albeit a different type of closure. The burden of proof in a civil case is different than that in a criminal case. In the criminal cases, the prosecutors had to convince jurors beyond a reasonable doubt, that Dr. Husel intended to kill his victims. In a civil case, the plaintiffs, who are the estates of the deceased victims, will have to prove that more likely than not, Dr. Husel’s decisions and actions were negligent and that his negligence was the proximate cause of the victim’s deaths.
A common example of exoneration in a criminal trial but a different result in civil court is the OJ Simpson case, where Simpson was acquitted of the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman but ended up with a $35 million verdict against him in the civil case. Although Dr. Husel did not testify in his murder trial, he will most likely be deposed in his civil case.
In Dr. Husel’s case, the hospital’s involvement is significant, particularly their administrative action of firing 23 other employees. If the hospital’s negligence, or the negligence of their employees, contributed to the death of patients, they may also be liable for their actions. In the end, the families who lost loved ones who were in the care of Dr. Husel and/or Mt. Carmel will have a second opportunity to seek justice in Ohio’s civil justice system.
We will be closely watching the development of the civil case and the implications for Ohioans, especially the most vulnerable of all needing critical care.