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Former West Virginia Nursing Assistant Confesses To Murder Of Veterans At VA Hospital

NOEL KING, HOST:

A woman in West Virginia admits to killing at least seven people at a VA hospital in Clarksburg. She worked there as a nursing assistant. The murders happened in 2017 and 2018, and it shocked the VA that they went so long without being noticed. Here's Dave Mistich of West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

DAVE MISTICH, BYLINE: The victims included veterans of the Air Force, the Army and the Navy. Many served in the Korean and Vietnam wars; several fought during World War II. Here's U.S. attorney William Powell.

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WILLIAM POWELL: Nothing we have done will bring your loved ones back...

MISTICH: Powell choked up as he spoke directly to the family members of the victims.

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POWELL: ...But we do hope that the work of these agents and the prosecutors honored the memory of your loved ones in a way that they so justly deserved and, in some small fashion, assuaged the anguish you have suffered.

MISTICH: Federal officials began looking into the case during the summer of 2018. Powell says investigators zeroed in on 46-year-old Reta Mays. She worked the overnight shift, often unsupervised, sitting with the patients. Prosecutors said she was not trained or permitted to administer drugs. But she injected lethal doses of unneeded insulin into the victims. Powell says Mays has not yet explained why she did it.

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POWELL: She denied it for a long time until most recently when she finally recognized, I think, the strength of our case, had consultations with counsel and decided the jig was up and plea was ready. So I expect we'll hear more about that as time goes on.

MISTICH: The men Mays killed had all put their faith in the VA's ability to care for them. Doug Olson, an FBI agent assigned to the case, says these veterans deserved a debt of gratitude instead of being killed inside a government hospital.

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

MISTICH: Mays was taken into custody after she pleaded guilty and faces seven life terms when she's sentenced. Twenty-six family members of the victims were in court. Afterwards, attorney Tony O'Dell said his clients are pleased to get some semblance of justice. Wrongful death lawsuits against Mays, the VA and other officials at the hospital are mounting.

TONY O'DELL: All the civil cases are about the system failures of the hospital that allowed this woman to kill veteran after veteran the exact same way without the VA doing anything about it.

MISTICH: O'Dell says it all showed a frightening degree of incompetence and a lack of human caring. In addition, he's heard from other families who believe Mays was responsible for earlier deaths in 2015 and 2016. And because of that, O'Dell says, it may be impossible to know how many people Mays killed at the VA facility.

For NPR News, I'm Dave Mistich in Clarksburg, W. Va.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.