NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A jury on Friday convicted a former Nashville nurse of reckless homicide and impaired adult abuse after she was accused of inadvertently injecting a patient with a deadly dose of a paralyzing drug.
The jury deliberated for approximately four hours in a trial closely watched by nurses and medical professionals from across the country, many worried that the case could set a precedent for medical errors leading to criminal charges.
RaDonda Vaught, 38, was indicted in 2019 on two charges – reckless homicide and impaired adult abuse – in the death of Charlene Murphey at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
Murphy, 75, died Dec. 27, 2017, after being injected with the wrong drug.
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Murphey was supposed to receive a dose of Versed, a sedative, but was instead injected with vecuronium, which left her unable to breathe, prosecutors have said.
“RaDonda Vaught probably did not intend to kill Ms. Murphy, but she made a knowing choice,” Assistant District Attorney Brittani Flatt said Thursday during the state’s closing arguments.
Prosecutors alleged Vaught consciously disregarded warnings and risks when she pulled the wrong medication from an electronic dispensing cabinet that required her to search for the drug by name, and was therefore culpable in Murphey’s death.
“This wasn’t an accident or mistake as it’s been claimed. There were multiple chances for RaDonda Vaught to just pay attention,” Assistant District Attorney Chad Jackson said in a rebuttal during closing arguments.
While Vaught’s defense acknowledged the tragic nature of Murphy’s death, her attorneys argued that her mistake was not a conscious, criminal act of homicide.
“What struck me most about RaDonda Vaught’s interviews was not her honest recitation of the facts … but her genuine worry and concern about Charlene Murphey and concern for her family,” defense attorney Peter Strianse said during the defense’s closing statement Thursday. “She wasn’t thinking about herself.”
THE INDICTMENT:Ex-nurse indicted on reckless homicide charge after deadly medication swap
Vaught was stripped of her license by the Tennessee Board of Nursing in July after the board initially chose not to investigate the death.
Murphey’s family sat in the gallery all week, as did a collection of nurses and other medical professionals across the aisle gathered in support of Vaught.
The American Nurses Association on Wednesday released a statement of concern the trial could set a worrying precedent and discourage nurses from reporting errors. They worried the trend could ultimately hinder patient safety.
Among the final jury, made up of six men and six women, was a practicing registered nurse and a former respiratory therapist. They elected the director of a nonprofit that works in prisons to be their foreperson. Davidson County Criminal Court Judge Jennifer Smith heard the case
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