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Nursing assistant admits killing veterans with injections, but the mystery of why remains unresolved

In a federal court hearing this week, former nursing assistant Reta Mays repeatedly acknowledged her guilt in the deaths of multiple veterans she was supposed to watch while on the overnight shift.

But Mays never said why she injected the veterans with fatal doses of insulin.

Bill Powell

The U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of West Virginia, along with lawyers representing family members of veterans who died, say that question might not be answered.

“Million dollar question. She never told us why she did it,” Bill Powell said, adding that Mays denied the killings up until she signed a plea agreement this week.

“Obviously families want to know. I’m curious to know. But I’m not sure anyone’s going to walk away satisfied in the end.”

Reta Mays

Mays, 46, of Harrison County, entered a guilty plea Tuesday afternoon to seven counts of murder and another count of assault with attempt to murder. Prosecutors said the last charge was because the victim lived for a period of time and Mays’ actions could not be determined to be the exact cause when the veteran died weeks later.

Mays began working at the veterans hospital in June 2015. She was removed from her job in July 2018.

She worked the night shift, 7:30 p.m. to 8 a.m. in Ward 3A, which housed fragile patients who were not well enough to be discharged but whose conditions did not require the intensive care unit.

Her job as a nursing assistant required her to measure patients’ vital signs, test blood glucose levels and sit one-on-one with patients who required observation.

Autopsies on exhumed bodies have pointed to insulin injections that weren’t needed. The veterans died of low blood sugar level — severe hypoglycemia — caused by the insulin shots.

She admitted to killing veterans Robert Edge Sr.Robert KozulArchie EdgellGeorge Shaw, a patient identified only as W.A.H., Felix McDermott and Raymond Golden while also administering insulin to “R.R.P.,” another patient who was not diabetic with intent to kill him.

The charges and plea follow a two-year investigation that began after the VA Medical Center reported several suspicious deaths. Mays had access to the veterans’ hospital rooms. She wasn’t supposed to have access to insulin.

She faces consecutive life terms for seven murder counts and another 20 years for a count of assault with attempt to murder. For now, she has been taken to West Virginia’s Northern Regional Jail.

During a plea hearing on Tuesday, Mays answered question after question about her understanding of the agreement and whether she had been unduly influenced in any way. Without making the agreement, she could have faced a trial and the possibility of the death penalty.

“Did you in fact do what they say you did?” asked U.S. District Judge Thomas Kleeh.

Mays answered just as she had to prior questions, “Yes sir.”

She was not asked about her motivation for killing the veterans, and she did not volunteer it. Motive also was not addressed in official filings.

Plea Agreement for Reta Mays (Text)

Lawyers for families of victims said they would like to know, but seemed resolved that the motivation could remain a mystery.

“I don’t know what her real motivation was. I’m not sure we’ll ever know,” said Charleston lawyer Tony O’Dell, who represents several of the families in civil cases.

O’Dell said admission of guilt and the likelihood of Mays spending the rest of her life in prison is some solace for families.

“This is a step in the right direction for closure,” he said. “The wounds are still open.”

Another attorney, Dino Colombo, said some families won’t be able to experience that kind of closure, though.

Frances Edgell, who was married to victim Archie Edgell for 62 years, died April 3, 2019, while the investigation was still under way.

“She never did find out what the autopsy showed. She never did learn why or how or under what circumstances her husband died,” Colombo said. “I think not knowing is such a difficult thing for this family.”

Mays’ defense attorneys have asked for additional time prior to sentencing to gather mitigating information they would use to argue for a lessened prison sentence.

It’s possible that more information about Mays’ state of mind would come out in their filings.

Mays, during routine questions in court about medications, said she recently got a prescription meant to help with post-traumatic stress disorder. Colombo speculated that could provide a hint about the thrust of her mitigation argument.

“She may never tell us exactly why,” Colombo said. “But I think we may be able to put the pieces of the puzzle together. They’re going to try to make a strong argument that there were mitigating circumstances in her life that led her to do this.

“But the truth is, they’re going to bring out all kinds of evidence about her history, about her circumstances, about what may have led her to do this. I think they’re going to lean heavily on PTSD.”

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