Families confront 'monster' nursing assistant given 7 life sentences for murdering veterans at hospital

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Family members of victims had the opportunity Tuesday in court to confront a former nursing assistant who murdered seven elderly veterans with fatal injections of insulin at a West Virginia hospital. The deaths occured in 2017 and 2018.

Before 46-year-old Reta Mays was sentenced to seven life sentences and 20 years by U.S. District Judge Thomas Kleeh, who himself described her as “the monster that no one sees coming,” the families of the victims read their impact statements aloud to Mays directly in the in Clarksburg, West Virginia, courtroom.

“I do not forgive you. I would punish you with my own hands if it would do any good. I want you to experience what death feels like,” said Robert Edge Jr., the son of victim, in a recorded statement played in court addressing Mays.

He said Mays’ actions deprived nine grandkids and 13 great-grandkids of Robert Edge Sr.’s love.

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“We will forever miss him. I will never understand why you, Mrs. Mays, decided to play God,” Amanda Edgell, daughter-in-law of victim Archie Edgell, said, explaining the regret the family has felt for taking him into the hospital to be treated in the first place. Amanda Edgell, married to Archie’s son, Steve, described how she used to spend hours speaking with Mays at the hospital — all while completely unaware of the nursing assistant’s actions.  

“What gave you the right to decide to take him from his loved ones?” she asked Mays, detailing the pain the family felt having to have Archie’s body exhumed. “He is not defined by how he died.”

Mays pleaded guilty last year in federal court to seven counts of second-degree murder for intentionally injecting the men with unprescribed insulin at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center.

As the deaths piled up during her overnight shifts at the hospital in 2017 and 2018, Mays conducted internet searches on female serial killers and watched the Netflix series “Nurses Who Kill,” Kleeh said. The judge explained that Mays repeatedly denied her involvement, telling investigators three times that she had no knowledge of the crimes.

“Several times your counsels made the point that you shouldn’t be considered a monster,” Kleeh told Mays. “Respectfully, I disagree with that. You are the worst kind. You’re the monster that no one sees coming.”

This photo released July 14, 2020, by the West Virginia Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority shows Reta Mays. Mays, a former nursing assistant at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center in Clarksburg, West Virginia, pleaded guilty to intentionally killing seven patients with fatal doses of insulin. (West Virginia Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority via AP)

“Why should you ever be let out of prison?” Becky Kozul, speaking in the courtroom on behalf of victim Robert Kozul, asked Mays, WBOY reported. Becky said Robert was a “true gentleman,” who loved life and never got the chance to meet his first great-granddaughter.

“You are a coward,” Melanie Proctor, daughter of victim Felix McDermott, told Mays, imploring her to tell the truth about other potential victims. Describing her father as “an ornery character who would give anyone a helping hand,” Proctor said Mays’ actions took away her family’s faith in the VA system.  

Hospital officials reported the deaths to the VA inspector general and fired Mays after evidence pointed to her.

An interview with Mays after her guilty plea was included in a lengthy report released Tuesday. In it, Mays said she administered insulin to patients she believed were suffering so they could pass “gently.” She said she also had great stress and chaos in her personal and professional life, and that her actions gave her a sense of control.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Jarod Douglas called her actions “predatory and planned, not reactionary.” “These men were not in need of mercy by the defendant,” Douglas said. “In the end it wasn’t the defendant’s call to make.”

In another recorded video played in court Tuesday, Norma Shaw, widow of victim George Shaw, described how her husband “became a man trapped in his own body” following Mays’ actions and left behind dozens of children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren.  She said the family initially believed the death to be from natural causes, but after learning of the autopsy results, kept news about the homicide a secret for a year.  

“He was everything to me. In my heart I know I need to forgive her for what she did, and someday I will, but not today. I know that judgement will come one day,” Norma said.

Mays cried and apologized in addressing the court briefly before learning her sentence.

“I know that there’s no words that I can say that would alter the families’ pain and comfort,” she said. “I don’t ask for forgiveness because I don’t think I could forgive anyone for doing what I did.”

The second-degree murder charges involved the deaths of Army veterans Robert Lee Kozul Sr., 89; Archie D. Edgell, 84; Felix Kirk McDermott, 82; and William Holloway, 96; Navy veteran Robert Edge Sr., 82; Air Force veteran George Nelson Shaw Sr., 81; and Army and Air Force veteran Raymond Golden, 88. She also was sentenced to an additional 20 years for assault with intent to commit murder involving the death of Navy veteran Russell R. Posey Sr., 92.

Mays’ attorney, Jay McCamic, described her long history of depression, anxiety, mental health and other medical issues, including a trip to the emergency room when a patient knocked her unconscious with a punch to the face in May 2016. Mays, of Reynoldsville, had served in the Army National Guard in a non-combat position in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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Her duties at the hospital included measuring patients’ vital signs and blood glucose levels. VA nursing assistants are not qualified or authorized to administer medication, including insulin, prosecutors said. The hospital’s nursing assistants also were not required to have a certificate or license as a condition of continuing employment.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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