After six days of deliberations, a jury in Ohio decided that a doctor accused of killing multiple patients with fentanyl overdoses is not a murderer. William Husel was acquitted Wednesday of 14 counts of murder, all involving critically ill patients in the Columbus-area Mount Carmel Health System, NBC reports. The 46-year-old was initially charged in the deaths of 25 patients between 2015 and 2018, but 11 counts of murder were dismissed earlier this year. The jury was told they could choose to convict Husel on lesser charges of attempted murder, but they declined to do so.
The case centered on one question, the New York Times reports: "Was he a murderer or was he offering comfort to patients near death?" Prosecutors argued that Husel had ordered doses of the powerful opioid far greater than what his patients needed to control pain (enough to "kill an elephant," one physician testified). The patients had been hospitalized with ailments including cancer, pneumonia, and organ failure. Prosecutors added that some of the patients weren't terminally ill—and even if a patient is very close to death, it's illegal to speed up the process.
Huber's attorneys argued that he was providing "comfort care" for dying patients. The prosecution called 53 witnesses, including medical experts, investigators, and patients' relatives, the AP reports. The only witness the defense called was an anesthesiologist who testified that the patients died from their conditions, not Husel's actions. Prosecutors said Wednesday that they accepted the jury's decision. Husel was fired and stripped of his medical license in 2019. After an investigation, the hospital system also fired 23 nurses, pharmacists, and managers. (Read more fentanyl stories.)