A nursing assistant in West Virginia was sentenced to seven consecutive life sentences plus 20 years for killing seven elderly veterans and trying to kill an eighth.
Reta Mays, 46, was sentenced on Tuesday for the murders at Clarksburg Veterans Affairs hospital. The sentencing means she will spend the rest of her life behind bars as there’s no parole in the federal prison system.
US District Judge Thomas Kleeh said: “Several times your counsel has made the point that you shouldn’t be considered a monster. Respectfully, I disagree with that. You’re the worst kind of monster. You’re the kind of monster that no one sees coming.”
Most of the victims were men in their 80s who had served in the wars in Korea and Vietnam. Two of the fathers and grandfathers who were killed were in their 90s and had served in the Second World War. Seven of the victims had some form of dementia.
The killings took place over a period lasting less than a year, with the first murder occurring in July 2017 and the last in June 2018.
Assistant US Attorney Jarod Douglas said the victims were improving and were moving towards leaving the hospital when Mays injected them with insulin they didn’t need, WV News reported.
Mr Douglas added that death by insulin is agonizing, mentioning symptoms such as tremors, palpitations, anxiety, sweating, hunger, and seizures. The patients’ dementia made it impossible for them to call for help.
Judge Kleeh said all of the victims had almost “completed their journey” and deserved “commendation, respect and thanks” but instead, Mays had treated them “like garbage”.
“To a man, they were good and decent people, who served their country honourably. As has become abundantly clear to this court in not only the materials submitted but what we heard today, they were good and decent men loved not only by their families but their communities. And to who this country owes a very deep debt,” the judge said.
He told Mays: “It wasn’t your call. It wasn’t your decision... You substituted your judgment for that of God, whatever higher power that you believe in. And you stole that time from these gentlemen that you were charged to care for.”
The judge added that there was “no explanation” and “no justification” for what Mays did. She pleaded guilty on 14 July 2020 to seven counts of second-degree murder and one count of assault with intent to commit murder. As a result, the government agreed not to push for the death penalty.
Amanda Edgell said during the sentencing hearing that her mother-in-law, the wife of victim Archie Edgell, “grieved herself to death,” dying a little over a year after her husband was killed by Mays.
She added that the widow, Frances Edgell, was shocked when investigators asked if they could exhume her husband.
“She would just randomly be saying, ‘Why would anyone want to kill Dad?’ And that’s our big question, too: ‘Why would anyone want to kill him?’” Amanda Edgell said.
“We’ll never know what he actually went through in those final days. And that’s hard to live with... There’s so many life events that he’s not there for, and that’s just not fair... We would like justice for each person that [Mays] harmed, and all of their family members, whether they’re still with us, or not. They all deserve that. None of these men deserve what she did to them. None of them.”
Norma Shaw lost her husband of 59 years, George Shaw.
“I don’t know how I feel about Reta. In my heart, I know I need to forgive her for what she did,” she said. “Someday I will, but not today. No matter what punishment we do, that won’t be anything like what God has in store for her. She’s going to have to answer for this... I know that judgment will come one day.”
Mr Douglas went after the defence team for claiming that the murders were mercy killings and for arguing that the sentence should be limited to 30 years, less than four years per victim. Mr Douglas argued for the maximum sentence.
“These men were not in need of mercy from the defendant,” he said noting the family members caring for the men. He said Mays’s actions were “shockingly horrific,” adding that her method was “unforgiving and brutal”.
“The acts were planned and repeated. The opportunities were carefully selected,” he said, adding: “On multiple occasions, the defendant went out of her way to murder these men.”
Defence lawyer Jay McCamic said Mays has had problems with her mental and medical health, suffering from things such as PTSD and military sexual trauma from her time serving in Iraq between 2003 and 2004. He noted that there was documentation of these issues, including at the very same hospital where she later committed the murders following her hire in 2015.
Mr McCamic also said the hospital had two opportunities to intervene and remove Mays from her post as a nursing assistant, in May 2016 and September 2017. But Judge Kleeh noted that others with similar traumatic experiences as those endured by Mays had not gone on to become serial killers, adding that she had watched Nurses Who Kill on Netflix after her first murder and later started “googling female serial killers”.
The judge told Mays: “You knew what you were doing... You researched how to do it. In all candour, Ms Mays, it appears to this court that you then began to compare the number of people you had killed with others.”
Mays lied to investigators three times in 2018, Judge Kleeh said. The deaths have resulted in 10 lawsuits being settled by the government for almost $5m. Other lawsuits are still awaiting decisions.
“Without question, the [Department of Veterans Affairs] is responsible for its own institutional failures here, but in absolutely no way are they responsible for your intentional homicidal actions,” Judge Kleeh said.
Investigators found more than a dozen unexplained deaths that occurred during Ms Mays’ employment, but according to former US attorney Bill Powell, Mays was only charged with the deaths where there was “sufficient evidence” against her.
She was also ordered to pay restitution to the families of the victims. Judge Kleeh will recommend that she is placed at the Federal Medical Center Carswell in Fort Worth, Texas where mental health treatment is provided. That placement was requested by Mr McCamic without objection from Mr Douglas.
This article was amended on May 17 2021. The headline previously referred to Reta Mays as a nurse, but she was a nursing assistant.