William Husel, the Ohio doctor charged with 25 counts of murder, is headed to trial.
Husel, 46, is accused of giving patients at Mount Carmel Health System Hospital in Columbus “excessive” amounts of painkillers — including the synthetic opioid fentanyl — that allegedly resulted in their deaths. On Friday, a Franklin County judge refused to dismiss the charges after Husel’s lawyers argued that the grand jury who indicted him were misled.
Husel has pleaded not guilty to all counts. The charges were filed after an internal investigation at Mount Carmel determined that Husel had over-prescribed painkillers to more than 30 patients, though he was only charged for the deaths of patients who died after receiving 500 micrograms (or more) of fentanyl, ABC News reported.
With the motion to dismiss the case denied, Husel moves one step closer to trial. The court will begin screening for jurors in February, for a case that could take up to two months to adjudicate, the Columbus Dispatch reported.
William Husel Accused
Husel was indicted on the murder charges by a grand jury in June 2019, after the Franklin County Prosecutor’s office alleged that the 46-year-old doctor gave an irrensponible amount of fentanyl to 25 patients at Mount Carmel who soon after died. An internal review by the hospital’s administrators reached a similar conclusion.
The county prosecutor at the time, who has since left office, reportedly said that Husel’s use of 500+ microgram doses of fentanyl in non-surgical contexts showed an “intent” to kill. Husel soon after lost his license to practice medicine in Ohio. He was arrested, but was quickly released after posting a $1 million bond.
Since then, Husel’s lawyers have claimed that he was only providing “comfort care” to patients who were already close to death. Defense attorneys sought to have the case dismissed, arguing that grand jurors were misled about what constituted a “fatal” dose of fentanyl, and claiming that prosecutors withheld reports of patients who received 500 micrograms or more of the drug and did not die.
Franklin County Judge Michael Holbrook shot down the motion to dismiss on Friday, arguing that prosecutors were not obligated to show evidence to grand jurors that might undermine their case.
“A prosecutor is under no obligation to present potentially exculpatory evidence to the grand jury,” Holbrook wrote in the ruling.
“Grand jury proceedings are, by nature, one-sided and solely for the purpose of assessing whether there is an adequate basis for bringing a criminal charge,” he continued. “To be sure, the court expects that this case will boil down to a battle of the experts. Who wins is for the [trial] jury to decide, not the grand jury or the undersigned judge.”
A grand jury votes whether or not there’s enough evidence to bring charges against an individual suspected of committing a crime. When a grand jury determines there is enough evidence to press charges — a decision called an indictment — the accused is brought to trial, where they can argue their innocence before a trial jury.
Others Fired in Fentanyl Probe
It was not immediately clear Friday why the Mount Carmel Health System administrators conducted the internal review that led to Husel’s indictment. But according to ABC News, the hospital dismissed more than 20 “nurses, pharmacists, and managers” following its investigation.
More than $17 million in lawsuit settlements have been paid to the families of patients affected, the outlet reported, and several more suits are still underway.
Judge Holbrook wrote that the criminal case against William Husel will hinge on how much fentanyl experts believe is a fatal dose. The synthetic opioid is notoriously deadly, and fatal overdoses have been on a steady rise for the last decade, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Drug Enforcement Agency has said that doses as low as 2 milligrams — or 2,000 micrograms — can be lethal.
In the criminal trial against Husel in February, prosecutors will need to convince jurors that the 500 microgram doses he allegedly prescribed to Mount Carmel patients resulted in their deaths and constituted willful murder on the part of the doctor.