A Doctor Was Accused in the Fentanyl-Related Deaths of 14 Patients. Why Did the Jury Acquit Him?

Dr. William Husel, 46, was accused of overdosing his ill patients, but a jury found him not guilty on all counts

William Husel
Photo: Mount Carmel Health

Dr. William Husel had worked at Ohio's Mount Carmel Hospital for five years. As a physician in the ICU, he was nominated for the institution's Doctor of the Year twice, winning the award in 2014.

But in 2018, he was accused of the unthinkable: killing dozens of his patients with overdoses of fentanyl — in some cases, doses that were up to 10 times higher than what some experts said was the typical palliative amount.

He finally faced trial earlier this year for 14 of those cases, for which he was charged with murder. The prosecution called 53 witnesses and presented dozens of exhibits. But the defense, helmed by high-profile attorney Jose Baez, presented only one witness to discuss comfort care for terminal patients.

The prosecution's case wasn't a slam dunk, however. Prosecutors could not present a motive for the killings. They also struggled to explain an internal memo within the Mount Carmel hospital system that listed possible "villains" in the deaths of the patients — and seemed to list Dr. Husel as their primary scapegoat.

Another issue: Ohio did not have a statute that outlined the maximum dosage of fentanyl. Doctors are given wide discretion in deciding what's best for their patients.

All in all, 23 people were fired from the hospital in connection with the deaths. Throughout testimony, Baez — best known for defending Casey Anthony and Aaron Hernandez — poked holes in the prosecution's theories. His defense seemed to connect with the jurors, who often nodded along and smiled as Baez presented his closing arguments.

The day after closing arguments, Baez and Husel sat with PEOPLE as they awaited the jury's verdict. "My client was a scapegoat," Baez says in this week's issue. "He did nothing wrong, and this entire prosecution is a travesty."

Dr. William Husel, left, and defense attorney Jose Baez stand during Husel's trial, in Columbus, Ohio. Husel is accused of ordering excessive painkillers for patients in the Columbus-area Mount Carmel Health System. He was indicted in cases involving at least 500 micrograms of the powerful painkiller fentanyl
Barbara Perenic/AP/Shutterstock

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Husel also maintained his innocence, saying that even knowing what he knows now, he would still administer the same amount of medication to the patients.

"I cared for my patients," he says. "I felt that the doses were appropriate for the patients. We were providing comfort care."

"At Mount Carmel, they didn't have any policy or protocol for dosage," he continues. "It's up to the physician, at his discretion, to manage the symptom at end of life."

The jury agreed with the defense, and acquitted Husel of all charges on April 20. All the jurors declined to speak with media after the verdict, leaving pundits to speculate on their thinking — but Baez told PEOPLE that the jury seemed to be following along with his defense. "They have paid close attention," he said. "And I think they understand that this was just a ridiculous prosecution."

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Prosecutors, in a statement to PEOPLE, acknowledged that Husel had received a fair trial.

"The Jury after review of all the evidence was not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that William Husel was guilty of any charges submitted to them," the Franklin County District Attorney's office said in a statement to PEOPLE. "We accept the jury's verdict."

Before the verdict, Husel told PEOPLE that he wanted to rebuild his life with his wife, Mariah, and their two children. "We're living with Mariah's family," he says. "We want to get a place of our own and start over."

Husel still faces wrongful death civil suits from most of the families of his patients. While his civil attorneys have settled some suits, others are still pending.

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