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The former Mount Carmel anesthesiologist faces 14 counts of murder after prosecutors say he ordered excessive doses of painkillers that hastened the deaths of patients.

William Husel found not guilty in one of Ohio's largest murder cases

William Husel
Doral Chenoweth
Former Mount Carmel Health doctor William Husel hugs his wife, Mariah Baird, after he was found not guilty on 14 counts of murder in connection with fentanyl overdose deaths of former patients on Wednesday, April 20, 2022 in Columbus, Ohio. Husel was accused of ordering excessive painkillers for 14 patients in the Mount Carmel Health System. He was indicted in cases that involved at least 500 micrograms of the powerful painkiller fentanyl.

Updated April 20, 2022 at 4:11 p.m.

A jury has found Ohio doctor William Husel, who was accused of overprescribing fentanyl to his critically ill patients, not guilty of 14 counts of murder.

Husel was charged with the murder of 14 patients at Columbus’ Mount Carmel West Hospital by prescribing them too much of the opioid fentanyl. The defense argued Husel was providing comfort care to dying patients.

 William Husel embraces defense attorney Diane Menashe after he was found not guilty on all 14 counts of murder in a Franklin Couty courtroom on April 20, 2022.
William Husel embraces defense attorney Diane Menashe after he was found not guilty of 14 counts of murder in a Franklin County courtroom on April 20, 2022.

Husel was originally charged with 25 counts of murder, but 11 of those charges were dropped by a Franklin County judge in January. Husel pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Following the verdict, Franklin County Prosecutor Gary Tyack’s office released a statement that reads in part, "The State of Ohio v. William Husel was carefully tried and prepared by both the Prosecution and the Defense. We accept the jury verdict."

Defense attorney Jose Baez tweeted 'Justice!!!! Not guilty on all counts!" shortly after the verdict was announced Wednesday morning.

Defense attorney Diane Menashe said Husel's not guilty verdict is an important moment for patient care across the country, and for the doctors and nurses that work in the ICU every day.

"We were fearful that this case and a verdict of guilty could impact how they practice medicine and how that could have negatively impacted comfort care for all of our loved ones," said Menashe on Wednesday. Menashe emphasized that Husel's intent was to provide comfort care.

When asked whether Husel intended to practice medicine again, Menashe said that decision was for another day.

"I told him to be with all of his family tonight. He has an amazing, supportive, huge family. Just have some joy. I don't think he's allowed himself any joy for three years," said Menashe. "Every day during these deliberations, he's had to say goodbye to his daughters. Because of course, we had to advise him that if it was a guilty verdict, he'd likely be taken into custody. The fact that he's had to do that all of these days, and tonight, he can go home. And tomorrow, he wakes up and there is no goodbye. It's an incredible thing."

During a post-trial press conference with defense attorney Jose Baez, Husel declined to speak. Baez said Husel wants to spend time with his family.

Pharmacists who worked with Husel at Mount Carmel were questioned during the prosecution's case. Pharmacist Gregory Dresbach told prosecutors he too thought it was a clerical error the first time he saw a 1,000 microgram fentanyl dose ordered by Husel.

"Even beyond that, I was concerned about the fact that people were overriding at one time, such high doses. And then on top of it, one person was removing them and another person was apparently giving them," Dresbach said.

Dresbach said when he inquired about such a dose for one patient, he said he received no explanation and so he rejected the order and the drug was given anyway.

Pharmacist Talon Schroyer also told prosecutors about a time he questioned one of Husel's orders.

"I asked something to the effect of 'Hey, doc, I got this order for fentanyl here. Did you add an extra 01 or something?' And he said, 'Nope. We're doing a procedure up here. That's what I ordered.' I said, 'Okay' and I hung up and verified the order," said Schroyer.

Prosecutors called more than 50 witnesses to the stand over the course of over a month. Defense attorneys rested their case after calling only one witness.

Former Mt. Carmel physician William Husel, left, appears at the Franklin County Common Pleas Courthouse with attoney Jose Baez, right, on Wednesday, March 9, 2022 in Columbus, Ohio. Husel is charged with 14 counts of murder of patients to whom he allegedly gave excessive doses of the painkiller Fentanyl.
Barbara J. Perenic
Former Mt. Carmel physician William Husel, left, appears at the Franklin County Common Pleas Courthouse with attoney Jose Baez, right, on Wednesday, March 9, 2022 in Columbus, Ohio.

The witness for the defense was Dr. Joel Zivot, an anesthesiologist and intensive care specialist at Emory University in Atlanta. Zivot spoke at length about the use of opioids to treat pain in dying patients and why there is no maximum dose.

Prosecutors had previously filed a motion to prevent Zivot and two other experts from testifying, arguing Zivot relied on improper information— including contact with Husel— to form his opinion.

In December 2021 Husel's defense tried to convince a Franklin County judge to dismiss the indictments against him, but the judge denied that request. Earlier this month, an affidavit of disqualification was filed seeking the removal of Judge Michael Holbrook from the case, was made. That delayed the closing arguments by 12 days.

Husel filed a lawsuit against Mount Carmel Health System in December 2019, claiming that he has "suffered perhaps the most egregious case of defamation in Ohio's recent history."

Mount Carmel Health System settled with the Ohio Board of Pharmacy for nearly $480,000 in January 2019 following an investigation into dosing practices and Husel.

Mount Carmel has reached settlements totaling more than $16.7 million over the deaths of at least 17 patients, with more lawsuits pending.

An attorney representing family members of eight patients said there are 10 pending medical malpractice lawsuits against Husel. A trial is set to start in one of the cases in late June.

Corrected: April 20, 2022 at 4:11 PM EDT
An earlier version of this story reported that Mount Carmel hospital has paid out $4.3 million in settlements. Mount Carmel has reached settlements totaling more than $16.7 million.
Matthew Rand is the Morning Edition host for 89.7 NPR News. Rand served as an interim producer during the pandemic for WOSU’s All Sides daily talk show.