Franklin County judge rejects motion to dismiss murder charges against suspended Dr. Husel

William Husel, center, listens as his attorneys, Jose Baez, left, and Diane Menashe, right, confer Wednesday in a Franklin County courtroom during a hearing on their motion to dismiss the 25 murder counts against the former Mount Carmel Health intensive-care physician, who is accused of purposely killing intensive-care patients with pain-killer overdoses. Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Michael J. Holbrook denied the motion Friday.

A jury trial is scheduled to begin next Valentine's Day for William Husel after a Franklin County judge on Friday rejected a motion to dismiss 25 counts of murder against the former Mount Carmel intensive-care physician over alleged prosecutorial misconduct.

Common Pleas Judge Michael J. Holbrook ruled that Husel's defense attorneys were unable to prove their claim that former county prosecutor Ron O'Brien obtained the indictment by misleading a grand jury.

“The defendant has failed to sufficiently demonstrate that Prosecutor O'Brien's conduct before the grand jury constituted prosecutorial misconduct,” Holbrook wrote in a six-page decision.

Husel, 46, is accused of intentionally killing 25 intensive-care patients at Mount Carmel Health hospitals from February 2015 through November 2018 by prescribing each of them at least 500 micrograms of fentanyl, a powerful opioid.

His defense team contends that he was providing comfort care to terminally ill patients in their final hours and not attempting to shorten their lives.

With the defense motion dismissed, the court plans to summon potential jurors, in groups of 300, to appear either Feb. 2, 3 or 4, for questioning about their knowledge of the case and whether they would be available for what could be a two-month trial.

The trial itself is scheduled to being Feb. 14.

The motion to dismiss alleged that O'Brien told the grand jury that 500 micrograms constituted a fatal dosage for critically-ill patients being removed from a ventilator, but that he withheld evidence of other patients who received much higher amounts of fentanyl dand did not die of overdoses.

The defense team focused specifically on the case of a female patient identified only as “T.Y.” According to the defense motion, T.Y. received a combined 2,500 micrograms of fentanyl during a 37-minute period on Nov. 23, 2014, after being removed from a life-support breathing tube, and survived for 10 more days. Her death was not related to the fentanyl Husel prescribed for her.

“Any failure by Prosecutor O'Brien to present T.Y.'s medical records, or any other records of defendant's patients receiving more than 500 micrograms of fentanyl, is not grounds for dismissal under the theory of prosecutorial misconduct,” the judge wrote.

The defense contends that O'Brien knowingly withheld exculpatory information — evidence favorable to the defendant — from the grand jury during his presentation in June 2019.

“A prosecutor is under no obligation to present potentially exculpatory evidence to the grand jury,” Holbrook wrote.

“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. To be sure, the court expects that this case will boil down to a battle of the experts. Who wins is for the (trial court) jury to decide, not the grand jury or the undersigned judge.”

The motion to dismiss the charges was filed more than a year ago by Jose Baez and Diane Menashe, lead attorneys for Husel, and was the subject of a hearing before Holbrook on Wednesday.

The judge heard testimony from two defense witnesses, including a medical expert from a hospice center in Pennsylvania, in support of the defense team's arguments about fentanyl dosages.

Dr. Timothy Ihrig, chief medical officer at Hospice and Community Care, testified that there is no medically established level at which a fentanyl dosage is considered deadly. Based on his experience, Ihrig said, 500 micrograms of fentanyl for someone who has been removed from a ventilator “isn't universally lethal.”

Husel, who previously resided in the Dublin area and now lives in the Pickaway County village of Orient, has had his medical license suspended by the state medical board. He pleaded not guilty to the murder counts and has been free on a $1 million bond since shortly after his arrest.

All but one of the deaths occurred at the former Mount Carmel West hospital in Franklinton; one patient died at Mount Carmel St. Ann's hospital in Westerville.

jfutty@dispatch.com

@johnfutty

This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Defense motion to dismiss murder case against Husel denied by judge

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