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Former VA Nursing Assistant Pleads Guilty To 7 Counts Of Murder In West Virginia

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

In West Virginia today, a former nursing assistant who worked at a Veterans Affairs hospital pleaded guilty to seven counts of murder. The surprise plea comes after federal investigators spent almost two years looking into a string of eight suspicious deaths at the VA Medical Center in Clarksburg. Prosecutors say the veterans died from lethal injections of insulin that were administered unnecessarily. Dave Mistich of West Virginia Public Broadcasting joins us now from Clarksburg.

Welcome.

DAVE MISTICH, BYLINE: Hey, there.

CHANG: Hey. So tell us a little bit about this woman who pleaded guilty today. Who is she, and what happened at that VA hospital?

MISTICH: So the woman is Reta Mays. She's a 46-year-old from the small town of Reynoldsville, W.V. In 2015, she was hired as a nursing assistant at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center right here in Clarksburg. She worked on overnight shift from 2015 to 2018. That was on a surgical unit known as Ward 3A. According to papers filed in federal court, the VA hospital did not require her to be certified in any way...

CHANG: Wow.

MISTICH: ...When she was hired. And she was not authorized to administer medicine. Prosecutors say that beginning in 2017, she was involved in a string of homicides in which she injected veterans at the hospital with unneeded insulin, causing their blood sugar to drop, which killed them.

CHANG: And I understand that Mays personally appeared in federal court today. Tell us what happened in the proceedings.

MISTICH: So Mays entered the courtroom this afternoon around 2 p.m. and stood in front of the judge. The proceedings were livestreamed via Zoom because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

CHANG: Right.

MISTICH: The judge asked Mays a series of questions to determine her competency to enter this plea. And then prosecutors read count after count that detailed her administering the insulin to these patients. She faces seven life sentences on the murder counts and even more time for an eighth related death. She was not sentenced today but will be later. And after court, she was taken into custody.

CHANG: And federal officials who helped in the investigation - they spoke to reporters about the case afterwards. Tell us what they said.

MISTICH: The U.S. Attorney William Powell said the investigation was long. It was complicated. It was intensive. We should point out it took two years. Hospital - the hospital had 1,200 employees and a lot of visitors. There was plenty for them to sift through. But he says they quickly zeroed in on Mays as the suspect in this case. And importantly, Powell says, they haven't yet learned why she did it.

One of the FBI agents involved in this case, Doug Olson - he was very blunt about what happened.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DOUG OLSON: These veterans and their families put their trust in this nursing assistant, and she betrayed that trust and decided to pick and choose who lived and who died.

CHANG: And let's talk about these victims. What do we know about them?

MISTICH: Well, you know, we had known some about them, but we learned a lot more today. The U.S. attorney spoke about each of the eight men who died. He got rather emotional when talking about some of them. They were from the Navy, the Army, the Air Force, among other branches. Most of them were in their 70s and 80s, and they had served either in the Korean or Vietnam Wars. But actually, two of the victims were in their 90s and fought in World War II.

So Ailsa, it really hits home that these veterans served their country in many ways but ended up dying in a government hospital where they went for routine medical care. And we should point out that the VA is still looking into how this all happened to begin with and what can be done to prevent this ever in the future.

CHANG: What a horrible story. That is Dave Mistich of West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

Thank you, Dave.

MISTICH: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF LOCAL NATIVES SONG, "WIDE EYES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.