Life in prison for ex-nurse in 5 bleach deaths
LUFKIN, Texas (AP) — A former Texas nurse convicted of killing five dialysis patients by injecting them with bleach should spend the rest of her life in prison with no chance of parole, jurors who earlier convicted the woman of capital murder said Monday.
Kimberly Saenz was convicted Friday of killing the patients at a clinic run by Denver-based health care giant DaVita Inc. She also received three 20-year terms for aggravated assault in the cases of five other patients who were deliberately injured at the facility in East Texas.
Jurors spent about 45 minutes deliberating before returning with a decision on the punishment. They also could have recommended that Saenz receive the death penalty.
"I was hoping for the death penalty but I'm all right," said Wanda Hollingsworth, whose mother was among Saenz's victims.
Given a chance to address Saenz after the jury left the courtroom, Hollingsworth said she was "nothing more than a psychopathic serial killer."
"You have disgraced your family and the medical field," said Hollingsworth, a nurse herself. "I honestly say I hope you rot in hell."
Marisa Fernandez, whose grandmother also was among the patients who died, said she was satisfied with the sentence.
"It is my duty as a Christian to forgive you," she told Saenz. "And I will. I just hope for your sake you can reach out and ask forgiveness for yourself."
Saenz was fired in April 2008 after a rash of illnesses and deaths at the clinic in Lufkin, about 125 miles northeast of Houston. Her lawyers argued Saenz wrongly took the blame for the clinic's sloppy procedures; bleach is a commonly used disinfectant at the clinic. DaVita Inc. denies the accusations.
"She's never getting out no matter what you do," Saenz's lawyer, Steve Taylor, said in his closing remarks, urging jurors to choose a life sentence. "Society is protected. You will never see her again."
Prosecutors failed to show Saenz would present a future danger for violence, one of the questions they must answer in deciding the death penalty, Taylor said. He reminded jurors she'd been free since her arrest and indictment and during trial.
"Kimberly Saenz has been out of jail for the last one, two, three, four years," Taylor said. "You've passed her on the stairs. ... If there was any possibility to create a future criminal act, the state would have her butt in jail. In the last four years, she has behaved herself."
Saenz's lead attorney, Ryan Deaton, indicated in court he would file for a new trial and seek appeals. He declined comment afterward.
Angelina County District Attorney Clyde Herrington never specifically urged jurors to impose the death penalty but pointed out how Saenz was found with drugs stolen while she was working as a hospital nurse and tried to fake a urine test that was required of her.
"I know you'll reach a verdict that's just and in accordance with the law," he said after showing the jury photos of some of the victims on a large screen in the courtroom.
"The victims in this case were patients that went in for medical treatment to try to prolong their lives and the only thing they did wrong was trust the defendant," Herrington said. "And they are innocent victims."
Saenz sobbed quietly earlier Monday as a witness called by her lawyer talked about how devastating the case has been to Saenz's fifth-grade daughter, one of her two children. The witness was among a dozen who testified Monday, nine of them for Saenz.
Most of the defense witnesses attested to Saenz's participation in her two children's school work and athletics, how she attended church and was a good worker at a previous job. All were questioned briefly except for the final witness, a prison consultant who described Saenz's restrictions as an inmate serving life without parole and emphasized that she would have no chance to get out.
"Come out in a box?" Taylor asked the consultant Frank AuBuchon, a retired Texas prison official.
"Yes, sir," AuBuchon replied as Saenz looked down at the defense table, her head in her right hand.
Death row only was mentioned in a few brief references during all of Monday's questioning and testimony.
All the prosecution witnesses were Lufkin law enforcement officers who testified about arresting Saenz for public intoxication and citing her for criminal trespass, both related to domestic disturbances with her husband. Records showed her husband had filed for divorce and obtained an emergency protective order against her in June 2007, a year before the clinic deaths and illnesses.
During questioning, Taylor brought out that Saenz and her husband have reconciled.
Other records showed Saenz had been fired from her job as a Lufkin hospital nurse after the drugs showed up missing and were found in her purse. Her nursing license eventually was suspended.
DaVita reopened the Lufkin clinic about two months after it was closed in the wake of the deaths and illnesses.
"We're grateful justice has prevailed," DaVita spokesman Vince Hancock said, "and hope the healing can finally start to occur for families of victims and for our teammates who also have been victimized by the murderous acts of Kimberly Saenz."