On Wednesday, an Ohio doctor was found not guilty of 14 counts of murder after being accused of overprescribing fentanyl to his critically ill patients and hastening their deaths.
After the 14th and final not guilty verdict was read in court, William Husel and his attorney hugged at the defense table. After that, he was escorted out of the courtroom.
The decision comes just over a week after jurors began deliberating and days after they announced they were at a stalemate and couldn’t reach a unanimous verdict, prompting Franklin County Judge Michael Holbrook to order them to continue. From 2015 to 2018, Husel was charged with 14 counts of murder after prosecutors claimed he purposefully administered excessive doses of fentanyl to patients in the intensive care unit, causing or hastening their deaths. The lesser charge of attempted murder was included in all of the counts.
In closing arguments, Franklin County prosecutor David Zeyen said, “If you hasten a person’s death, even if their death is as certain as the sun rising in the morning, if you hasten that along, you have caused their death in the eyes of the law.”
Prosecutors had not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the doses caused the patients’ deaths or that Husel intended to kill them, according to defense attorney Jose Baez. Over 50 witnesses, including doctors, nurses, and administrative employees of Mount Carmel Hospital West, where Husel worked as a night ICU physician, testified for the prosecution in February.
Family members described how their loved ones quickly deteriorated once they arrived at the hospital, as well as their interactions with Husel and the ICU. Experts also testified in court that the large fentanyl doses Husel administered to patients caused their deaths and were intended to hasten their death.
Husel’s former colleagues testified that despite the allegations, he was a wonderful doctor who was hardworking, fought to save people’s lives, was helpful to everyone in the ICU unit, and was always there to teach and explain.
Husel’s defense called only one witness, Dr. Joel Zivot, who examined the 14 patients’ medical records and determined that they were suffering from severe and incurable illnesses. Zivot also testified that the patients’ recovery to a normal state of health was impossible, and that their deaths were caused by underlying medical issues.
Husel declined to testify. His medical license is currently suspended, according to his defense attorney.
Husel, 46, was indicted on 25 counts of murder almost three years ago, but 11 of those counts were dismissed before the trial.
The Mount Carmel Health System initially stated that a report regarding Husel’s care was received on October 25, 2018. Husel was removed from patient care a month later by the hospital system. Three people died during that time “after receiving excessive and potentially fatal doses of medication” as ordered by the doctor, according to the hospital.
Husel was fired from his job on December 5, 2018. In the same month, an attorney for Mount Carmel contacted the Franklin County prosecutor’s office, requesting that Husel be investigated.
The attorney claimed that a doctor, later identified as Husel, was “administering doses of fentanyl at a level that they internally believed were inappropriate and not for a legitimate medical purpose,” according to Ron O’Brien, the Franklin County prosecutor at the time. The doses, which ranged from 500 to 2,000 micrograms, were found to be “designed to hasten the death of the patients that were being treated,” according to O’Brien.
According to the US Drug Enforcement Administration, fentanyl is an opioid used to treat patients with chronic severe pain or severe pain following surgery (DEA). The drug, which is 100 times more powerful than morphine, is frequently used in end-of-life care to relieve pain in dying patients.
2 milligrams of fentanyl, or 2,000 micrograms, is considered a potentially lethal dose by the DEA.