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Public_safety
Jury finds ex-nurse guilty of capital murder for killing patients at Tyler hospital
  • Updated

A former East Texas nurse could get the death penalty after a Smith County jury on Tuesday found him guilty of capital murder for the deaths of four patients at a Tyler hospital.

After about an hour of deliberation, the jury reached its verdict in the trial of William George Davis, 37, of Hallsville, following about two weeks of witness testimony and evidence.

Davis, who wore a suit and tie throughout the trial, was found guilty of injecting air into patients’ arterial systems while he was a nurse at Christus Trinity Mother Frances Louis and Peaches Owen Heart Hospital in Tyler, causing their deaths. He was found guilty in the deaths of patients John Lafferty, Ronald Clark, Christopher Greenaway and Joseph Kalina.

After about two hours of closing statements Tuesday, the jury of 12 Smith County residents left the 114th District Court just before noon to review the evidence and reach a verdict. They returned with a verdict at about 1 p.m.

Judge Austin Reeve Jackson Tuesday morning read the charge against Davis and gave instructions to the jury. He told the jurors they had three options for a verdict: a finding of not guilty, guilty of capital murder or guilty of the lesser charge of murder.

Davis’ trial began Sept. 28 when he entered a not guilty plea. The prosecution presented evidence for 11 days while the defense put on four witnesses across two days.

Davis told Jackson on Monday he did not want to take the stand.

The prosecution is seeking the death penalty in the case. The punishment phase, where jurors will hear further witness testimony, is set to begin Wednesday morning.

Those convicted of capital murder face either life in prison without parole or the death penalty.

During closing arguments, the prosecution said Davis likes to kill people.

“He enjoyed going into the room and injecting people with air,” Smith County First Assistant District Attorney Chris Gatewood said.

Gatewood asked the jury to make reasonable deductions and use their common sense as they deliberate. He told the jury Davis used a syringe to inject air into the patients’ arterial system, causing air to get into their brains.

“We have proven he committed capital murder. The evidence has established Will Davis is guilty of capital murder,” Gatewood said.

Gatewood referenced Kalina’s neurological event on Jan. 25, 2018, while he was recovering from heart surgery in the cardiovascular ICU. Scans later showed air in his brain, and Kalina died two years later because of brain damage.

Security footage in court showed Davis was the last person to enter Kalina’s room before there were complications.

Davis said he went into the room to silence an IV pump, but records later showed an alarm wasn’t going off, according to previous testimony.

Gatewood told the jury Davis didn’t tell the other nurses what happened and he stood by as others responded to help Kalina.

In a meeting with Deb Chelette, vice president of operations and cardiac services for Christus Trinity Mother Frances Louis and Peaches Owen Heart Hospital, Davis said he responded immediately to help Kalina but the video showed his response was much slower.

“When he’s in the room with Mr. Kalina, he’s shoving air into the arterial line,” Gatewood said.

Gatewood said the pattern was similar to that for patients Greenaway, Lafferty and Clark. He told the jury Davis lied about why he was in the rooms of the patients who later died and that Davis was the only nurse on the floor during each of the patients’ complications.

Gatewood called the defense’s suggestions the stroke-like events could have been caused by issues other than air injected into the arterial system “red herrings” and attempts to misdirect the jury.

Defense attorney Phillip Hayes said the patients who later died showed a classic pattern of watershed strokes, and their prior health issues could have led to their complications and deaths.

None of the accusations against Davis add up, according to Hayes who suggested Davis might be a scapegoat for the hospital.

Hayes told the jury the defense’s expert witness, John Schnell, an emergency physician at the UT Health ER and former Christus Mother Frances chief of emergency medicine, said it was anatomically impossible for air to go against the blood flow.

Hayes claimed Davis tried to give life-saving measures to at least two of the patients. He said one of the state’s witnesses, Teresa Meeks, clinical director at cardiovascular ICU, misled and tried to hide things about the timeline of Kalina’s neurological event.

Hayes told the jury Davis was charged in the deaths because he was the only person who was on the floor during each of the incidents. He also suggested some of the state’s witnesses had confirmation bias, which is when people interpret things based on their existing beliefs, to fit the prosecution’s narrative.

Smith County District Attorney Jacob Putman reiterated his statement from the beginning of the trial that a hospital is a perfect place to commit a murder.

“We’re never more vulnerable (than at the hospital),” Putman said.

Regarding the defense’s claim of Davis being a scapegoat, Putman said no one had anything against Davis as hospital leaders like Chelette were recommending him for jobs and considered him a good nurse.

Putman said it’s false that air can’t go against the blood flow, and noted experts said the patients’ brain had a unique pattern similar to a watershed stroke but their damages were much more distant.

Incidents of air in the brain and damage stopped when Davis no longer worked at Christus TMF in February 2018, Putman said before asking the jury to find Davis guilty of capital murder.

“He killed these four patients; he did it on purpose,” Putman said.

Davis has been in the Smith County Jail since his April 2018 arrest on bonds totaling $8.75 million. He was indicted on charges of capital murder, murder and five counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

He was fired from Christus Mother Frances Hospital — Tyler on Feb. 15, 2018, for falsifying care events and unethical practice related to failure to disclose interventions provided that may have impacted the outcome of a patient.

His nursing license was suspended in March 2018 through a Texas Board of Nursing order.

Davis worked at Christus Mother Frances Hospital for five years. Before coming to Mother Frances in Tyler, Davis worked for Christus Good Shepherd Medical Center in Longview from 2011 to 2013.

Arrest affidavits show the offenses all occurred at Christus Mother Frances.


Local
'It can be a very well-kept secret': Women's Center of East Texas aims to raise awareness of domestic violence

The Women’s Center of East Texas will join local law enforcement and the Gregg County District Attorney’s Office this week for Purple Thursday to increase domestic violence awareness.

Pct. 2 Justice of the Peace Tim Bryan, who is on the Women’s Center board, is scheduled to speak, and the groups will gather for a photo at about 1:30 p.m. Thursday on the Gregg County Courthouse for the Domestic Violence Awareness Month event.

According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence, people wear purple on Purple Thursday in part to show support for ending domestic violence.

Women’s Center of East Texas Executive Director Hollie Bruce said the goal for the Thursday event is to gather participating organizations together to bring awareness about domestic violence, to support survivors and to honor victims.

“What we believe — and what has been a national trend through the pandemic — is that challenge of seeking help when you might be isolated with your abuser,” Bruce said. “We all certainly know that we are not exactly through the pandemic.”

Domestic violence historically has been a taboo topic, Bruce said.

“Domestic violence is not just physical violence,” she said. “It’s sexual violence, threats, emotional abuse and other forms of control. So, the frequency and severity really varies.”

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports that one in four women and one in nine men experience severe physical violence, sexual violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner.

“It can be a very well-kept secret,” Bruce said. She added that the Women’s Center exists to provide support for victims and to be a refuge.

According to the Crime in Texas report by the Texas Department of Public Safety, 965 family violence reports were made in Gregg County this past year. More than half of those were made to Longview Police Department.

Texas Family Code defines family violence as “an act by a member of a family or household against another member of the family or household that is intended to result in physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault or that is a threat that reasonably places the member in fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault, but does not include defensive measures to protect oneself.”

In 2020, 213,875 family violence incidents were reported statewide, an 8.6% increase from 2019. The incidents involved 231,029 victims, a 9.2% from 2019.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created increased risk factors for domestic violence, Bruce said.

“Intimate partner violence can happen to anyone,” Bruce said. “These things can happen regardless of economic status.”

According to the Women’s Center, more than 19,000 calls — or 13 calls per minute — are made to domestic violence hotlines nationwide on a typical day.

The Women’s Center’s domestic violence 24-hour hotline can be reached at 1 (800) 441-5555.


State
Texas lawmakers pass new congressional maps
  • Updated

AUSTIN — Texas Republicans approved redrawn U.S. House maps that favor incumbents and decrease political representation for growing minority communities.

The maps were approved Monday night following outcry from Democrats over what they claimed was a rushed redistricting process crammed into a 30-day session, and one which gave little time for public input. They also denounced the reduction of minority opportunity districts — Texas will now have seven House districts where Latino residents hold a majority, down from eight — despite the state’s changing demographics.

“What we are doing in passing this congressional map is a disservice to the people of Texas,” Democratic state Rep. Rafael Anchia said to the chamber just before the final vote.

GOP Gov. Greg Abbott is expected to sign off on the changes.

Civil rights groups, including the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, sued before Republican lawmakers were even done Monday. The lawsuit alleges that Republican mapmakers diluted the political strength of minority voters by not drawing any new districts where Latino residents hold a majority, despite Latinos making up half of Texas’ 4 million new residents over the last decade.

Abbott’s office did not respond to a message seeking comment.

Republicans have said they followed the law in defending the maps, which protect their grip on Texas by pulling more GOP-leaning voters into suburban districts where Democrats have made inroads in recent years.

Texas has been routinely dragged into court for decades over voting maps, and in 2017, a federal court found that a Republican-drawn map was drawn to intentionally discriminate against minority voters. But two years later, that same court said there was insufficient reason to take the extraordinary step of putting Texas back under federal supervision before changing voting laws or maps.

The maps that overhaul how Texas’ nearly 30 million residents are sorted into political districts — and who is elected to represent them — bookends a highly charged year in the state over voting rights. Democratic lawmakers twice walked out on an elections bill that tightened the state’s already strict voting rules, which they called a brazen attempt to disenfranchise minorities and other Democratic-leaning voters.

The plan does not create any additional districts where Black or Hispanic voters make up more than 50% of the voting population, even as people of color accounted for more than 9 of 10 new residents in Texas over the past decade.

Republican state Sen. Joan Huffman, who authored the maps and leads the Senate Redistricting Committee, told fellow lawmakers that they were “drawn blind to race.” She said her legal team ensured the plan followed the Voting Rights Act.

The Texas GOP control both chambers of the Legislature, giving them nearly complete control of the mapmaking process. The state has had to defend their maps in court after every redistricting process since the Voting Rights Act took effect in 1965, but this will be the first since a U.S. Supreme Court ruling said Texas and other states with a history of racial discrimination no longer need to have the Justice Department scrutinize the maps before they are approved.

However, drawing maps to engineer a political advantage is not unconstitutional. The proposal would also make an estimated two dozen of the state’s 38 congressional districts safe Republican districts, with an opportunity to pick up at least one additional newly redrawn Democratic stronghold on the border with Mexico, according to an analysis by The Associated Press of data from last year’s election collected by the Texas Legislative Council. Currently, Republicans hold 23 of the state’s 36 seats.

Following negotiations between Texas House members and state senators, the Houston-area districts of U.S. Rep Sheila Jackson Lee, a Democrat who is serving her 14th term, and U.S. Rep Al Green, a neighboring Democrat, were restored, unpairing the two and drawing Jackson Lee’s home back into her district.

Texas lawmakers also approved redrawn maps for their own districts, with Republicans following a similar plan that does not increase minority opportunity districts and would keep their party in power in the state House and Senate.


Education
top story
Longview ISD
Report ranks Longview ISD's Hudson PEP Elementary among best in state
  • Updated

U.S. News & World Report has ranked an Longview ISD campus among the top five elementary schools in Texas.

Out of a total 4,446 elementary schools in the state, Hudson PEP Elementary is ranked fifth and is the only campus in the top 10 in a largely economically-disadvantaged community. Additionally, it ranked as the No. 2 magnet elementary school in the state.

U.S News & World Report cited 95% of Hudson PEP students scoring at or above the proficient level for math and 89% scoring at or above that level for reading as key components to the school’s overall score.

Sue Wilson, Hudson PEP principal, recognized teachers and parents for being dedicated and working as a team to ensure the success of students’ education.

“The teachers are dedicated, our students are outstanding and the parents/community work with us as partners in their child’s education,” she said. “It is exciting to see teachers who want to improve on teaching and learning, and are always seeking to learn new ways to deliver instruction.”

LISD Superintendent James Wilcox said he considers Hudson PEP the elite elementary campus in East Texas.

“It’s a testament to the quality leadership of Mrs. Sue Wilson and her administrative team, her many excellent teachers and tremendous community of families and local stakeholders that make this possible,” Wilcox said. “While we’ve always known that Hudson PEP is the elite elementary campus of East Texas, it’s very rewarding to see that reputation extends to the entire state.”

Students who attend Hudson PEP gain admission through a testing process, which means the school draws students from all over Longview ISD and elsewhere.

Unlike its annual list of the country’s best high schools, U.S. News & World Report didn’t come up with a national ranking of elementary schools, according to the district. Rather, it published a ranking for each state.

Scoring for the statewide rankings was largely based on how students performed the state assessments for mathematics and reading/language arts, according to the district. U.S. News used data from the U.S. Department of Education for the 2018-19 academic school year, avoiding the recent impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic on students.


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