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Former VA Medical Worker Pleads Guilty To Murdering 7 Patients In West Virginia

Retired Army Sgt. Felix McDermott is buried in Pennsylvania's Westmoreland County. His death is one of seven that Reta Mays has been charged with.
Jeff Swensen
The Washington Post via Getty Images
Retired Army Sgt. Felix McDermott is buried in Pennsylvania's Westmoreland County. His death is one of seven that Reta Mays has been charged with.

Updated at 3:20 p.m. ET

A former nursing assistant at a medical center for veterans in West Virginia has pleaded guilty to seven counts of second-degree murder and one count of assault with the intent to commit murder.

Reta Mays, 46, appeared in federal court Tuesday and admitted to killing the patients at the Louis A. Johnson Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Clarksburg by injecting them with insulin. She also admitted injecting an eighth patient in order to kill him.

Prosecutors requested that Mays, who is from Harrison County, where Clarksburg is located, serve seven consecutive life sentences and an additional 20-year prison term.

Mays worked the night shift from 2015 to 2018 at the medical center, in a ward that housed many patients who had diabetes, according to the charging documents. A nursing assistant was not required to have a license or certification to work at this VA medical center.

In 2018, prosecutors say, a doctor reported "a concern about the deaths of patients who had suffered unexplained hypoglycemic episodes," a condition linked to a surplus of insulin in the body. Hypoglycemia means that the patient has low blood sugar and, in severe cases, can lead to coma and death.

Some of these episodes involved patients who were not diabetic.

The doctor's report prompted an investigation and culminated in the federal charges filed Monday in U.S. District Court in West Virginia.

By injecting the patients with insulin, Mays caused their blood sugar to drop to deadly levels, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jarod Douglas told the court Tuesday. A reading of under 70 mg/dL is considered low; all seven of of Mays' patients experienced levels in the mid-30s or below. One patient, 88-year-old Raymond Golden, had a level of 7.

Another patient, 84-year-old Archie Edgell, had a blood sugar level of 24 after Mays injected him, Douglas said. Hospital staff were able to raise his level and stablize him. Shortly thereafter, Mays injected Edgell again and he could not be saved.

In addition to Golden and Edgell, other victims named in the charging documents are Robert Edge Sr., Robert Kozul, George Shaw, Felix McDermott, and another patient listed only by the initials W.A.H. All of them died between July 2017 and June 2018.

The eighth person, whom Mays is accused of assaulting in June 2018, is identified only as R.R.P. After Mays injected insulin into the 92-year-old man — who was not a diabetic — hospital staff were able to stabilize his blood sugar, Douglas said. Nevertheless, he died about two weeks later at a nursing home.

The medical investigator could not determine if the insulin contributed to the 92-year-old's death, but it was Mays' intention to kill him, Douglas told the court.

McDermott, a Vietnam veteran, had been admitted to the hospital because of aspiration pneumonia before he died, as West Virginia Public Broadcasting's Dave Mistich reported last year.

"We thought he had died of natural causes, only to find out in late August [2018], when the FBI showed up at my house, that he didn't," his daughter, Melanie Proctor, told Mistich. "And we have been waiting for answers ever since."

A family attorney told NPR's Vanessa Romo last year that McDermott died because of "one massive insulin injection."

"My heart goes out to the families and loved ones who tragically lost a Veteran and have had to endure this injustice," Sen. Joe Manchin, W. Va., said in a statement Tuesday. "As a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, I will not stop until we determine how this could have happened, and ensure it never happens again."

A sentencing date for Mays has not yet been set.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.
Matthew S. Schwartz is a reporter with NPR's news desk. Before coming to NPR, Schwartz worked as a reporter for Washington, DC, member station WAMU, where he won the national Edward R. Murrow award for feature reporting in large market radio. Previously, Schwartz worked as a technology reporter covering the intricacies of Internet regulation. In a past life, Schwartz was a Washington telecom lawyer. He got his J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center, and his B.A. from the University of Michigan ("Go Blue!").