NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A jury convicted a former Nashville nurse on Friday of reckless homicide and abuse of an impaired adult after she was accused of inadvertently injecting a patient with a lethal dose of a paralyzing drug.
The jury deliberated for about four hours in a trial closely watched by nurses and medical professionals from across the country, with many fearing the case could set a precedent for medical errors leading to criminal charges.
RaDonda Vaught, 38, was charged in 2019 with two counts — reckless homicide and impaired adult abuse — in the death of Charlene Murphey at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
Murphey, 75, died on December 27, 2017, after being injected with the wrong drug.
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Murphey was supposed to be given a dose of Versed, a sedative, but was instead injected with vecuronium, which left her unable to breathe, prosecutors said.
“RaDonda Vaught probably did not intend to kill Ms. Murphey, but she made an informed choice,” Assistant District Attorney Brittani Flatt said Thursday during the state’s closing arguments.
Prosecutors alleged that Vaught knowingly ignored warnings and risks when she removed the wrong drug from an electronic dispensing cabinet that required her to search for the drug by name, and was therefore guilty of Murphey’s death. .
“It was not an accident or mistake as claimed. There were multiple chances that RaDonda Vaught was just being careful,” Assistant District Attorney Chad Jackson said in a rebuttal during closing arguments.
While Vaught’s defense acknowledged the tragic nature of Murphey’s death, his attorneys argued that his mistake was not an act of knowing, criminal homicide.
“What struck me most about RaDonda Vaught’s interviews was not her honest recitation of facts…but her genuine concern and concern about Charlene Murphey and her concern for her family,” said defense attorney Peter Strianse during the defense’s closing statement on Thursday. “She wasn’t thinking of herself.
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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 group of nurses and other medical professionals from across the aisle gathered in support of Vaught.
The American Nurses Association issued a statement on Wednesday fearing the lawsuit could set a worrying precedent and discourage nurses from reporting mistakes. They feared the trend would ultimately harm patient safety.
Among the final jury, made up of six men and six women, were a practicing registered nurse and a former respiratory therapist. They elected the director of a non-profit organization that works in prisons to be their president. Davidson County Criminal Court Judge Jennifer Smith heard the case
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