Trial in 10 VA hospital deaths set for October 2003

Monday, October 28, 2002

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Survivors of 10 hospital patients who prosecutors say were murdered a decade ago will wait at least one more year for the trial of the former nurse accused in the deaths.

And attorneys on both sides of the case agree it could be even longer before Richard Williams goes to trial.

Wearing shackles and an inmate's jumpsuit, Williams was in Boone County Circuit Court on Friday as Senior Judge Frank Conley set his trial to begin on Oct. 20, 2003. He did not testify.

A Boone County grand jury indicted Williams in July on 10 counts of first-degree murder. He is accused of injecting 10 patients at the Truman Memorial Veterans Hospital in Columbia with a paralyzing drug that caused them to stop breathing.

Williams, 36, has pleaded innocent to the charges. Boone County Prosecutor Kevin Crane has said he intends to seek the death penalty.

In court Friday, public defender Don Catlett seemed unsure whether he would have Williams' defense ready by next October. He said there were more than 20,000 pages of discovery material and the defense is only about a third of the way through it.

"I'm not optimistic," Catlett said of the trial date.

Crane said he wouldn't be surprised if the defense eventually seeks a continuance. Conley set five other hearing dates for the interim.

The defense has requested a change of venue, and the two parties expect to draw a jury from another county for a trial in Columbia. They have until this Friday to agree which county might provide the jury.

While Crane is optimistic that they will come to agreement, Conley set a Nov. 8 hearing in case they do not agree.

The defense has also requested a special hearing to determine the scientific acceptability of advanced liquid chromatography technology that was used to detect the paralyzing drug in the tissue of the deceased patients.

Prosecutors say the technology found traces of the drug -- succinylcholine -- in the tissues of all 10 patients, all of whom died from March through July 1992 during hours when Williams was on duty. The patients ranged in age from 58 to 85 and died from within a few hours to a few weeks after being admitted to the hospital.

Altogether, 41 patients died in 1992 under Williams' care. While those deaths were deemed suspicious at the time, usable tissue samples from 1993 exhumations remained from just 10 bodies, authorities said.

Williams left the VA hospital in early 1994, moved to the St. Louis area and left the nursing profession.

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