The Kansas City Star from Kansas City, Missouri on January 26, 2014 · A8
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The Kansas City Star from Kansas City, Missouri · A8

Kansas City, Missouri
Issue Date:
Sunday, January 26, 2014
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Livingston County Prosecutor Adam Warren has reopened a investigation of the hospital deaths in 2002. As his suspicions grew, internal medicine physician Cal Greenlaw (left) talked to his good friend and hunting partner J. Scott Lindley, the Livingston County coroner. In an affidavit, Lindley cited 18 suspicious code blues and nine deaths over a 14-week period. Even though most of the lawsuits came a decade after the deaths, they could move forward despite the state’s three-year statute of limita- tions on wrongful-death cas- es, the court said. That’s be- cause loved ones of the de- ceased didn’t know that hos- pital officials allegedly had concealed a poisoning spree, according to the court’s opi- nion. Families were told the pa- tients died of natural causes. St. Luke’s Health System attorney Christopher L. Schnieders said “we vocifer- ously deny” the civil claims leveled at the Chillicothe medical center. He ex- pressed confidence that the Missouri Supreme Court will overturn the appellate court’s Nov. 26 opinion. St. Luke’s had no stake in the city-owned hospital at the time of the alleged kill- ings — the Kansas City- based nonprofit entered into a lease agreement to operate Hedrick a year later. The hospital group is named as a defendant along with a few other health care entities. On the criminal side, Li- vingston County Prosecutor Adam Warren has reopened a long-moribund investiga- tion into the 2002 hospital deaths. He told The Star the alle- gations against Hall are too serious to ignore. All sides agree they are very hard to prove. If Hall did deliver fatal in- jections, as the suits claim, she somehow gained access to medications a respiratory therapist has no business possessing — and ones that forensic scientists can’t eas- ily detect in a corpse. Civil court affidavits and sworn depositions reveal a tangled, circumstantial case of suspicion, hearsay, crimes alleged but unseen and strong denials of a cover-up by hospital officials. And a lot of time has passed. Hall was 21 then. She is 33 now. In the years between, she left the health care field to pursue a quiet life of office work in the Kansas City sub- urbs. Even though Hall today finds herself at the center of a series of alleged killings, she is nowhere near the le- gal action. “Nobody has asked me if I’ve done anything or if I haven’t done anything” re- garding her five months at Hedrick Medical Center, she said. Law enforcement hasn’t questioned her. Lawyers haven’t deposed her. “I want my name to be cleared, yes,” Hall said of her decision to talk to The Star about the accusations. “… At the same time, I don’t want my character de- stroyed.” So to keep strangers from recognizing her in the park or out shopping, she asked to be photographed in the shadows. The fire It’s happening again, said Hall’s attorney, Matthew O’Connor. “You’re talking about someone who’s been falsely accused before.” In 2000, Hall had just turned 20 when Cass Medi- cal Center in Harrisonville hired her as a respiratory therapist. She was fresh off a 10-month training course at a Kansas City career insti- tute. Six months into the job, on Jan. 24, 2001, she arrived at work with a new hairstyle, curlier than usual. Other than that, it seemed like any other day at Cass Medical. Until about 7:10 p.m. The fire alarm sounded. A small blaze had broken out in the respiratory therapy of- fice where Hall had a desk. The room was vacant of people but contained liquid oxygen tanks that could blow if flames reached them. Cass Medical colleagues saw Hall retrieve a can of so- da from her pickup truck just before the alarm went off. She rushed inside the hospital and toward a smoky hallway. She and two co-workers tried crawling toward the burning office in an effort to reach the oxygen tanks and shut off the valves. Before they got to the fire, emergency crews arrived to put it out. The oxygen tanks were spared, and damage was minimal. But a Harrisonville police detective, Wayne Schraml, sensed something serious, court records show. As the city’s chief fire in- vestigator, Schraml arrived at the scene and found a sus- picious clutter of burnt pa- per on the floor next to Hall’s desk, where the fire appeared to have started. He found no signs that ac- celerants had been used, no kerosene or matches. But neither did he find evidence that the fire started acciden- tally, he would testify in criminal court. Among the first people he encountered at the hospital was Hall, who had a slight burn on her right hand. Hall told co-workers, and later a jury, that she suffered the injury touching a hot door frame when she was trying to shut down the oxy- gen tanks. Prosecutors filed charges, alleging she suffered the burn setting the fire. Investigators learned that Hall had lodged a sexual ha- rassment complaint against a male co-worker a month before the blaze. He would inappropriately massage her shoulders, she said. When the hospital later told her that the co-worker’s punishment would not ex- ceed a verbal admonish- ment, “she was not pleased with our findings,” the hu- man resources director tes- tified. So displeased as to reduce Cass Medical to ashes? That made no sense, her attorney told the court. The alleged sexual harassment had ceased before the fire. The overfriendly co-worker, 52, died of a heart attack a day after being chewed out. The trial commenced in late September 2001. At one point, Circuit Judge Jacque- line Cook turned to Michael Yost, the Cass County assis- tant prosecutor, and told him: “I’ll be very honest with you. This is not a very strong case, Mr. Yost, in my mind.” Still, Cook considered the circumstantial evidence — including the burn on Hall’s hand and conflicting testi- mony as to how it got there — and allowed the trial to run its course. After Hall took the stand, prosecutor Yost charged in his closing arguments that Hall “lied, lied, lied, lied, lied.” The big mystery was mo- tive. Why would she torch her office in the first place? Was she seeking attention, having arrived at work with a new hairstyle that would look good on TV? Could she have been angry about the hospital going easy on the co-worker who liked to mas- sage her shoulders? “Bottom line is we don’t know,” Yost told the jury. “We don’t have a psychic po- lice force who can reach into someone’s mind.” The jury was out a little more than five hours before it rendered a verdict. Guilty. Second-degree ar- son. Twelve weeks later, Hall was sentenced to three years. She immediately dumped her defense lawyer and hired a new one, O’Con- nor. He filed an appeal that bought Hall some time on an appeal bond. By this time, early 2002, Hall was performing respi- ratory therapy elsewhere –– at Hedrick Medical in Chilli- cothe. Hospital officials didn’t know she was appealing a felony conviction. Hall said she never told them. Code blue At Hedrick Medical, one of the first signs of a poten- tial problem with code blues surfaced on Feb. 18, 2002. Working the emergency room that night was Cal W. Greenlaw, an internal medi- cine physician and licensed doctor of pharmacology. A female patient he was treating suddenly coded. Her blood sugar levels plummeted. Toiling through the night, trying different drugs to ele- vate her blood sugar, Green- law kept the patient from dying. “In my professional opi- nion,” he recalled in a signed affidavit filed in late 2011, “she did not have a valid medical basis to have un- usual and irrational blood sugar/insulin events causing her to go into cardiovascular events or code blue.” In the weeks and months to come, Greenlaw would become certain that a mur- derer was lurking about the hospital, perhaps slipping insulin into IV bags. His suspicions turned to Hall, the new girl working nights. “She would come in say- ing, ‘I think we’re going to have excitement tonight,’ ” the physician testified 11 years later in a deposition. “Sure enough, someone would code.” Some on staff — particu- larly a longtime registered nurse named Aleta Boyd — also were troubled by Hall’s behavior. “She liked code blues,” Boyd would testify. As a risk manager for the hospital in 2002 (she no longer is with Hedrick), Boyd reviewed unexpected events. In this case, she eval- uated medical charts for what she later characterized in an affidavit as “a drastic increase in code blues and deaths.” The 49-bed hospital typi- cally responded to maybe three code blues per quarter, she said in her deposition last spring. But just in Febru- ary 2002, there were as many as five. At least six more code blues and three more deaths occurred in March. And “each time you look at a (patient’s) chart,” Boyd testified, “Jennifer Hall is the common denominator.” Boyd expressed her con- cerns to a supervisor who “blew me off” and denied there was a problem. The supervisor, she said, com- mented about the hospital looking bad if TV news crews showed up. Staff suspicions mounted. Boyd claims in the deposi- tion that she was “85 per- cent” certain that Hall was killing people. ALLEGATIONS: All sides agree that they are very hard to prove FROM A1 SEE CERTIFICATES | A9 PHOTOS BY KEITH MYERS | THE KANSAS CITY STAR SUCCINYLCHOLINE It’s been called the perfect murder weapon: Poison someone. Never get caught. The surgical drug succinylcholine, “sux” for short, paralyzes every respiratory muscle, but only for a moment when properly administered to intubate patients. An overdose injection will halt lung function long enough to result in suffocation. But even in heavy doses, the drug breaks down rapidly into succinic acid and choline molecules, which are naturally present in human tissue after death. For forensic scientists, the parent drug “is very, very difficult to detect — not impossible,” said Graham Jones, chief toxicologist for the medical examiner’s office in Alberta, Canada. “Most people would say it’s pretty much a long shot unless you get that tissue sample within hours of death.” Officials have suggested that sux was used in some of the suspicious deaths at Hedrick Medical Center. In homicide investigations, toxicologists may test for traces of a compound called succinylmonocholine, which hasn’t fully broken down. But it also has been found in tissue samples of people who weren’t poisoned, according to studies at the FBI laboratory in Quantico, Va. Sux has been implicated as a poisoning agent in several murder cases. Some have led to convictions. In 2007, a Nevada court handed a life sentence to hospital nurse Chaz Higgs for allegedly injecting his wife, state controller Kathy Augustine, and causing her death. In 2002, a former nurse at Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans’ Hospital in Columbia was charged with killing 10 patients a decade earlier using sux. He was later released from jail after tests on some of the bodies came back inconclusive. | Rick Montgomery, “Nobody has asked me if I’ve done anything or if I haven’t done anything.” JENNIFER HALL, REFERRING TO HER FIVE MONTHS AT HEDRICK MEDICAL CENTER A8 SUNDAY, JANUARY 26, 2014 HH WWW.KANSASCITY.COMFROM THE COVER | THE KANSAS CITY STAR.

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