Ex-VA nursing assistant pleads guilty to killing 7 veterans with fatal doses of insulin

A former nursing assistant at a Veterans Affairs hospital in West Virginia has been charged with killing seven veteran patients...

A former nursing assistant at a Veterans Affairs hospital in West Virginia has pleaded guilty to killing seven veteran patients with lethal doses of insulin.

On Tuesday, Reta Mays, a former VA staffer at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center in Clarksburg, West Virginia entered a plea of guilty for second-degree murder in the deaths of seven veteran patients and assault with intent to commit murder in the case of another.

According to recently unsealed court documents, Mays began working at the Clarksburg hospital in 2015 and was responsible for measuring patients' vital signs, documenting their blood and glucose levels, and sitting with them when they needed close observation. 

After a string of mysterious deaths occurred among patients at Ward 3A in the hospital, where Mays worked the night shift, an internal investigation was launched and Mays was removed from a position of patient care in July 2018.

At least eight veterans were injected with insulin by Mays — though only four were diabetic — according to the court documents. At no time was Mays qualified or authorized to administer medication, including insulin, which can be fatal, especially for those who are not diabetic, and can lead to severe hypoglycemia which can result in seizures, coma, or death. 

On July 14, Mays entered a guilty plea to charges of second degree murder in the deaths of Robert Edge Sr., Robert Kozul, Archie Edgell, George Shaw, Felix McDermott and Raymond Golden, as well as a seventh veteran who was identified only by the initials “W.A.H.”

The veteran Mays pleaded guilty to assaulting with intent to commit murder was identified by the initials “R.R.P.”

Between 2017 and 2018 there were as many as 11 suspicious deaths at the Clarksburg hospital, which prompted a sweeping federal investigation.

In October 2018, McDermott's body was exhumed and brought to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware for an autopsy, which ruled his death a homicide, according to a wrongful death complaint filed by Tony O'Dell, who is representing McDermott's family.

The VA has faced steady criticism over the pace of the investigation, including from family members of the dead, some of whom have launched lawsuits accusing VA leadership at the hospital of systemic failures.

“There's something called a sentinel event: When there's a sudden unexplained death, under suspicious circumstances or not, it's supposed to be reported,” O'Dell told Task & Purpose in August 2019, adding that a detailed investigation — “a root cause analysis” — is meant to occur after such incidents.

“All of these deaths happening at the VA center… each one of these should have triggered a root cause analysis investigation and provided a perfect opportunity to prevent the next one,” O'Dell said at the time. “If you have a rogue employee doing this once or twice, it should have stopped there.”

For each one of the seven counts of second-degree murder, Mays could face a maximum sentence of life in prison, in addition to 20 years behind bars for the charge of assault with intent to commit murder.

A date has not been set for sentencing at this time.

UPDATE: This article has been updated with new information from Reta Mays' plea hearing on July 14.

Related: A federal grand jury is looking into the 'suspicious' deaths of veterans at a single VA clinic