Former nurse charged with 10 deaths at state veterans hospital

Monday, June 3, 2002

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) -- A former nurse at a veterans hospital was charged Monday with 10 counts of first-degree murder for the deaths of 10 patients in 1992.

The charges against Richard Williams, 36, of St. Charles, were filed by Boone County Prosecutor Kevin Crane and capped a lengthy investigation aided by the Department of Veteran's Affairs and the FBI.

More than 40 patients on Ward 4 East at Truman Memorial Veterans Hospital in Columbia died in 1992 while under the care of Richard Williams. Williams has denied wrongdoing.

The FBI previously concluded that 11 of the deaths were "highly" suspicious and 22 were "moderately suspicious."

"In recent months, the continuing investigation ... led to evidence explaining the cause of these 10 deaths," Crane said in a statement Monday. "The cause of the deaths, together with the facts surrounding them, enabled this prosecution to finally proceed."

Williams was taken into custody Monday morning in St. Louis and was being taken to the Boone County jail, Crane said.

In 1998, U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey awarded $450,000 to the widow of a man who died at the hospital in 1992. Laughrey ruled that the hospital was negligent in the death of Elzie Havrum because it failed to remove Williams from patient care duties.

Tests showed Havrum had elevated levels of codeine in his body when he died. His widow, Helen, has said she believed Williams gave her husband a fatal dose of the painkilling narcotic.

In February 2000, a federal appeals court in St. Louis upheld a ruling in the Havrum case that the hospital was negligent for allowing Williams -- who was already suspected in patient deaths -- to continue caring for patients.

Crane said at the time that there was no basis yet for prosecuting Williams.

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