RaDonda Vaught will probably not serve any prison time.
Vaught was sentenced Friday to three years probation for her involvement in the death of a Nashville woman five years ago.
Vaught, a former Vanderbilt nurse, was convicted in March of two counts, criminally negligent homicide and abuse of an intoxicated adult, after a medication error contributed to Charlene’s death Murphy, 75, in December 2017.
Vaught received a devious sentence, which means that if she meets the terms of her probation, the charges can be erased from her record later.
A long back-and-forth on diversion laws took up part of the morning sentencing hearing. Ultimately, Davidson County Criminal Court Judge Jennifer Smith ruled that Vaught was eligible for the program on both counts.
“It was a terrible, terrible mistake,” Smith said. “And there were consequences for the defendant.”
Vaught, in the courtroom, trembled as Smith read the sentence.
On the first floor of the Justice AA Birch Building in Nashville, applause erupted in an overflow room where a live broadcast of the hearing aired all day.
Across the street, cheers rose from the crowd, many of whom were medical professionals themselves, who gathered in the park to watch and await sentencing.
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The case sparked a debate in the medical community over medical error issues and concerns about the nurse’s criminal liability in Murphey’s death.
Hundreds of supporters and nurses from across the country descended on Nashville on Friday to rally for her. For weeks, nurses, unions and others have urged the court not to impose a prison sentence on Vaught.
Many wore purple to support Vaught. Others held signs lamenting a possible prison sentence for her. Crowds responded at times with groans and cheers during an emotional morning of testimony.
“I’m really sorry for what happened”
Vaught, who injected Murphey with the wrong drug, took responsibility for his actions immediately after and in every interview about the circumstances.
She did it again on Friday, speaking for the first time in court.
“Saying I’m sorry doesn’t seem like enough, but you deserve to hear it and know that I’m truly sorry for what happened,” Vaught told the Murphey family, who sat quietly and nod.
Many supporters inside the courthouse overflow room watched with mostly emotionless expressions, though a few nodded in solemn agreement as Vaught spoke.
“When Mrs. Murphey died, part of me died with her,” Vaught said.
She said it was not easy to stand in front of the Murphey family, knowing what they have been through over the past four and a half years, and asking for leniency from the court.
But Vaught said she is no longer a nurse and does not pose a threat to the public.
“This condemnation is bound to have an effect on how they go about both reporting medical errors, medication errors, raising concerns if they see something that they think needs to be brought to the attention of someone,” Vaught pleaded. “I fear this will have a profound impact on patient safety.”
Murphey fell ill on Christmas Eve 2017 and was diagnosed with a subdural hematoma at Sumner Regional Medical Center before being transferred to Vanderbilt.
Her condition appeared to improve and she was removed from the highest level of the ICU, but doctors ordered her to undergo a PET scan to find the cause of the brain haemorrhage before she could be discharged.
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But Murphey was claustrophobic.
Murphey, having to remain still for the analysis, was prescribed a sedative, either Versed or midazolam.
Vaught was working as a “help-all” nurse in the ICU and was asked to collect the medicine and remove it to administer to Murphey where she was waiting in the scanning area.
Vaught attempted to retrieve the drug. But when she couldn’t find it, she disengaged a protection allowing access to stronger drugs.
Vaught accidentally removed vercuronium, a paralyzing agent, from the cabinet and injected Murphey with the drug.
By the time the error was realized, the patient had suffered cardiac arrest and partial brain death. Murphy died on December 27, 2017.
Vaught was criticized for failing to spot the error several times before Murphey was injected and for leaving Murphey in the care of scanning technicians and not personally monitoring her vital signs after administering the drug.
Vanderbilt settled a civil lawsuit with the family shortly after his death.
Vaught was investigated by the nursing licensing board in the months following Murphey’s death and was not recommended at the time to lose her license or be suspended.
But nearly a year after the event, an anonymous tip, a surprise inspection, and state and federal investigations have led to threats of penalties for VUMC and a criminal indictment for Vaught. After appearing before the board of nurses last year, Vaught had her license revoked.
District Attorney Glenn Funk stands by the decision to prosecute.
‘Just the evil that I watched’
The Murphey family had avoided commenting publicly on the case in the days and weeks following Vaught’s guilty verdict. They released a statement in March that became the talking point of the May 3 primary race for the district attorney.
But outside court on Friday, the family spoke of the pain and injuries they have endured since Murphey’s death.
Murphey’s son, Michael, and two of his daughters-in-law, Rhonda and Chandra, gave tearful testimony. A once seemingly composed Vaught cried more with each testimony.
“The hurt I’ve seen my family go through is horrific. It’s absolutely horrific,” Rhonda Murphey said. “And I try to be strong for them but sometimes it’s hard.”
Both Michael and Chandra said Charlene Murphey would not have wanted jail time for Vaught, prompting applause and cheers from supporters outside the courthouse and a group in the courthouse overflow room. justice.
Chandra Murphey, however, said she never heard an apology from Vaught. Vaught’s crying intensified with those words. Vaught sought to rectify that with his unprepared remarks on Friday before taking the podium.
Health professionals and their fears
Medical professionals have expressed concern that the case will deter other nurses from reporting errors for fear of outsized consequences.
But the case was about the actions of an individual, Funk said after the trial.
“Now with this belief she will never be able to get her license back. This is the outcome Charlene Murphey’s family wanted. They wanted justice for Charlene Murphey and this is what our office achieved for them,” wrote Funk in a March release.
More than 450 protesters gathered outside the courthouse Friday morning, some even from out of state.
“I just wanted to be here and say, ‘For the record, that’s not OK,'” Indiana nurse Amber Rhine said in an interview.
Many protesters wore purple shirts saying “Nurse Strong. I’m with RaDonda”, while others held up signs saying “Nurses are not criminals”.
Nurses and medical professionals solicited statements ahead of the hearing on social media in hopes of swaying Smith’s decision, flooding the court with hundreds of emails and voicemails.
“I hope that the changes in practices and protocols in the medical community that have occurred since this event can at least be a positive aspect that has emerged. And in the future, I hope that this will prevent this type of situation. to breed,” Smith said. .
“I recognize, however, that it will never be enough,” she told the Murphey family, “to heal your wounds.”
Liam Adams contributed to this report.
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: RaDonda Vaught sentenced to three years probation for diversion