Lawyers for Reta Mays, who is accused in the deaths of eight patients at the Clarksburg VA Medical Center, are trying to gather her mental health records to present possible mitigating circumstances during the sentencing hearing that a federal judge set for Feb. 18-19.
Mays 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.
Her defense is working to present mitigating factors in the case. Federal prosecutors might call family members of the victims to the witness stand.
A federal judge set a two-day sentencing hearing for Feb. 18-19 after defense attorneys asked for more time than that and prosecutors asked for an earlier date.
“I certainly understand the government’s interest in reaching finality in this matter with respect to sentencing. I even more understand the interest of the victims’ families,” said U.S. District Judge Thomas Kleeh during a Friday afternoon status hearing.
“My job is to ensure the constitutional rights of Ms. Mays are certainly protected and followed here.”
Kleeh also set a 10:30 a.m. Nov. 18 status conference to ensure both defense and prosecution are on schedule to be ready.
Much of the discussion during a Friday afternoon status hearing in Wheeling focused on gathering records about Mays’ mental health dating back to her 2003 deployment to Iraq, where she was a chemical equipment repairer with the West Virginia National Guard’s 1092nd Engineer Battalion.
Lawyers defending Mays said they were still trying to gather some of those records — particularly from her deployment period — that could be key to her mitigation and wanted a March sentencing date.
Federal prosecutors pushed for a January sentencing date, citing age and ill health of some of the victims’ families. Prosecutors said they have been helping to gather records, including the VA’s files on her mental health treatment from 2005 through 2020.
“What is undisputed is that this defendant has had the same psychiatric provider for 15 years, and they have those records,” said Jarod Douglass, a prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of West Virginia.
Mays, 46, of Harrison County, entered a guilty plea July 14 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 Louis A Johnson VA Medical Center in Clarksburg 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 Kozul, Archie Edgell, George 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 followed 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.
Victims’ families and their lawyers were able to watch Friday’s status hearing through teleconferencing.
Mays, who wore an orange jumpsuit, stood and was sworn in but was not called to testify on Friday. So she still has not described the reasons for the killings that she has admitted.