Former nurse charged with 10 deaths

Tuesday, June 4, 2002

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- A former nurse at a veterans hospital was charged Monday with 10 counts of first-degree murder for allegedly giving patients a paralyzing drug that caused them to stop breathing.

The charges against Richard A. Williams, 36, all stem from a four-month period in 1992, when Williams was suspected in more than 40 deaths of patients under his care at Truman Memorial Veterans Hospital.

Using technology not available a decade ago, investigators reviewed some of the cases and determined that each of those people was given the drug succinylcholine shortly before death.

The drug is typically used when a breathing tube is inserted down a patient's throat for artificial respiration, such as during surgery. The drug causes complete paralysis in less than 90 seconds, preventing people from breathing, and stops the heart in seven to 14 minutes.

Williams has denied wrongdoing. He was arrested Monday morning without incident in his hometown of St. Peters in suburban St. Louis and taken to the Boone County jail, where he was held without bond. His arraignment was scheduled for today.

The charges filed by Boone County Prosecutor Kevin Crane are the result of a lengthy investigation aided by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the FBI.

Crane would not say whether the investigation was ongoing.

Relatives of some of the deceased veterans had given up hope that the deaths ever would be explained. Word of the charges brought mixed emotions for Frances Gilmore, 85, whose husband Carl died April 28, 1992. Williams is charged in Gilmore's death.

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