WASHINGTON – A former nursing assistant pleaded guilty Tuesday to federal murder charges in connection to a string of insulin deaths at a veterans hospital in West Virginia.
Federal prosecutors say Reta Mays killed seven veterans at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center in rural Clarksburg by injecting them with lethal doses of insulin, causing their blood sugar levels to drop to dangerously low levels.
Mays faces life imprisonment. She was charged with seven counts of second-degree murder and one count of assault with intent to commit murder, according to charging documents unsealed Tuesday. Her attorneys did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The development comes about two years after a criminal investigation into suspicious deaths of 10 veterans at the hospital began. All patients were elderly veterans staying in in the hospital’s surgical unit, known as Ward 3A. All suffered unexplained drops in their blood sugar levels.
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Federal prosecutors tied Mays, who began working at the hospital five years ago and was assigned to work the night shift at Ward 3A, to seven deaths in 2017 and 2018. As a nursing assistant, Mays was responsible for, among other things, checking vital signs, testing patients’ blood sugar levels, but was not qualified to administer medication, including insulin.
She was fired in July 2018.
USA TODAY reported in October that hospital staff missed opportunities to figure out what was happening, which may have risked veterans’ lives and limited evidence in the probe. The hospital didn’t adequately track insulin, and there were no surveillance cameras on the ward, according to employees.
By the time a doctor alerted hospital supervisors of the deaths in June 2018, at least eight patients had died under suspicious circumstances. Several had been embalmed and buried, destroying potential evidence. Many of the bodies had to be exhumed for a medical examiner to perform autopsies. One veteran had been cremated.
Mays appeared in court Tuesday, repeatedly saying “Yes, sir” to the judge’s questions, including whether she understood the terms of her plea deal. At times, her body shook and her voice trembled beneath the white mask she was wearing. Prosecutors recommended that she receive consecutive life sentences.
The investigation drew the interest of Attorney General William Barr after it became public last year that two of the deaths had been ruled homicides.
Other deaths have been ruled “undetermined.” Some were not diabetic, while others had Type 2 diabetes but were either not prescribed insulin or needed only a small dose.
The other victims are Archie Edgell, 84, Robert Edge, Sr., Robert Kozul, Raymond Golden and one identified in charging documents as W.A.H. USA TODAY reported last year that William Alfred Holloway, 96, died after suffering severe hypoglycemia, a condition in which blood sugar levels plummet.
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Court records say Mays injected another veteran, identified in court records as R.R.P., with insulin, although his blood sugar levels stabilized. The man died later, but the medical examiner was unable to tie his death to the insulin injection.
All men died within months, sometimes days, of each other.
One veteran, John Hallman, 87, was cremated, although his daughter said his medical records showed his level of insulin spiked before he died.
Tony O’Dell, an attorney for several of the victims’ families, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Contributing: Donovan Slack and Kevin Johnson
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Veteran deaths: Reta Mays facing murder charges for Clarksburg deaths