A former Veterans Affairs nursing assistant pleaded guilty on Tuesday to seven counts of second degree murder and one count of attempted murder for unnecessarily injecting patients at a West Virginia hospital with insulin, causing fatal health complications.
Reta Mays, who worked at the Louis A. Johnson Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Clarksburg, appeared in U.S. District Court Tuesday afternoon for arraignment on the charges, the culmination of more than a year of investigation into a string of suspicious deaths at the hospital.
As part of a plea agreement, Mays — an Army veteran herself —pleaded guilty to all of the charges and offered no defense in the hearing. Her voice cracked several times as she responded to questions from the judge, including when she acknowledged being on medication for post-traumatic stress disorder.
The case has drawn national headlines in the last year as the number of suspected victims rose as the investigation deepened. Lawmakers have expressed frustration over the slow pace of the work, both to answer families’ lingering questions about their deceased loved ones and the safety of the hospital itself.
In recent months, as FBI investigators zeroed in on Mays, Attorney General William Barr became personally involved in the high-profile case, asking officials for periodic updates on the status.
Veterans Affairs officials have worked with law enforcement on the case since an internal investigation in 2018 unveiled potential crimes by Mays.
She was fired from her post at the medical center in July 2018 after three years on the job. The indictment against Mays accuses her of using her night-shift position to secretly inject at least eight patients with insulin despite no medical need.
The treatment resulted in seizures, coma and death for at least seven of them. An eighth individual survived the initial poisoning but later died. Officials could not determine if Mays’ actions or other underlying health conditions resulted in his death.
No motive was presented in court filings for Mays’ actions. Under a plea agreement, federal prosecutors recommended life in prison for Mays with no possibility of parole.
In a statement, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., praised the long-awaited charges.
“My heart goes out to the families and loved ones who tragically lost a veteran and have had to endure this injustice,” he said. “While overdue, today justice is finally being served. I hope today’s announcement brings some semblance of peace to their hearts and to the families who are still uncertain about the fate of their veterans.”
Veterans Affairs officials also issued a statement lauding the end of the ongoing investigation. “We’re glad the Department of Justice stepped in to push this investigation across the finish line and hopeful our court system will deliver the justice Clarksburg-area Veterans and families deserve.”
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.