CLARKSBURG — Reta Phylis Mays, a former nursing assistant at the Louis A. Johnson Veteran Affairs Medical Center pleaded guilty on Tuesday to murdering seven veterans at the facility by injecting each with fatal doses of insulin.
Mays, 46, admitted she also attempted to murder an eighth veteran in a similar manner.
Mays had been charged with seven counts of second-degree murder for the deaths of the veterans in her care, as well as one count of assault with intent to commit murder.
She entered the guilty plea Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Clarksburg after being charged on Monday.
A resident of Reynoldsville in Harrison County, Mays admitted she was responsible for killing veterans Robert Edge Sr., Archie Edgell, Raymond Golden, Robert Kozul, Felix McDermott, George Shaw and veteran W.A.H., whose family has requested anonymity.
The veterans each died of severe hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar level, caused by the administration of unnecessary insulin shots.
“It was determined the defendant injected exogenous insulin into the eight victims, causing seven of them to die from the resulting effects of hypoglycemia,” said U.S. States Attorney Bill Powell of the Northern District of West Virginia.
Powell was part of a phalanx of U.S. attorneys, Veterans Affairs personnel, FBI agents, and state and local law enforcement officers wwho attended a Tuesday afternoon news conference at the Jackson Square Parking Pavilion in Clarksburg.
Mays also pled guilty for attempting to murder veteran R.R.P., whose family also requested his name not be made public. He died two weeks after being injected with insulin and suffering a hypoglycemic event, but the U.S. Department of Justice said it was unable to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the cause of his death.
The murders and attempted murder occurred between July 2017 and June 2018. Mays worked at the VA Medical Center from June 2015 through July 2018
Mays has not disclosed a motive for the murders she committed.
As a nursing assistant at the VA Medical Center, Mays admitted to administering insulin to several patients with the intent to cause their deaths.
Mays worked the night shift, from 7:30 p.m. to 8 a.m., in the medical center’s surgical unit, referred to as Ward 3A, during the period of time when each of the veterans died of hypoglycemia. The ward typically houses many patients who have diabetes.
Some of Mays’ victims did not have diabetes, however.
Nursing assistants at the VA Medical Center are not qualified nor authorized to administer medication to patients, including insulin, according to Powell.
May faces up to life in prison for each count of second-degree murder, as well as 20 years in prison for the assault with intent to commit murder charge.
Powell said an “exhaustive investigation since July 2018” had been conducted by the Veterans Affairs Office of the Inspector General and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which included the review and analysis of significant volumes of medical records, consultations with medical experts, and the investigative work of assistant United States attorneys across the Northern District.
“The defendant has now, in open court, acknowledged her actions regarding the murder of the victims,” said Powell. “We will be seeking the maximum punishment.”
The investigation “was complicated, extraordinarily time-intensive, and the focus of numerous agents and prosecutors for the last two years,” said Powell.
Powell seemed to get emotional when addressing the families of the victims.
“Nothing we have done will bring your loved ones back, but we do hope that the work of these agents and prosecutors honored the memories of your loves one in a way that they so justly deserved and in some small way have assuaged the anguish you have suffered,” said Powell.
Veterans Affairs Inspector General Michael J. Missal praised the “collaboration and coordination among law enforcement officials” in leading to Mays’ arrest and guilty plea.
Missal said the investigation was “treated as the highest priority and significant resources were committed to the matter.”
Missal said Mays was identified as a person of interest early on in the investigation.
“Working with the facility, we had her removed from patient care immediately,” Missal said. “That act alone may have saved countless lives.”
Doug Olson, the FBI’s acting special agent in charge of the investigation, said Mays “robbed these eight men and their families of spending time together and making new memories together.”
Olson said more than 250 interviews were conducted during the two-year investigation. He said “hundreds of pieces of evidence” were sent for examination to the FBI laboratory in Quantico, Virginia. The bodies of at least two of the murdered veterans were exhumed for analysis and testing.
“It’s been a very thorough and meticulous process. We owed it to those eight veterans and their families to get them the answers we could,” Olson said.
Olson said the murders were particularly disturbing because of who was killed and where the crimes took place.
“I think we can agree that everybody deserves proper medical care, but there’s an increased expectation that veterans receive good medical care after everything they sacrificed for their country,” Olson said. “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.”
According to federal prosecutors, the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center did not require nursing assistants to be either certified or licensed.
Mays allegedly claimed to be a certified nursing assistant when she applied for the position with the medical center, but a database of those licenses does not include her name.
Mays’ primary job responsibilities required her to measure patients’ vital signs, test blood glucose levels and sit alone with patients who required observation.