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A West Virginia nursing assistant and Army veteran who admitted to killing seven elderly men at a Veteran’s Administration hospital over a year-long period ending in 2018 will be jailed for the rest of her life, a court ruled on Tuesday.
Reta Mays, an Army National Guard vet who served in a non-combat position in Iraq and Afghanistan, pleaded guilty in 2020 to the seven killings at Clarksburg’s Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center at a July plea hearing. A federal judge handed the 46-year-old consecutive life sentences on Tuesday afternoon for each of the seven counts of second-degree murder she said she committed.
“You are the monster no one sees coming," U.S. District Judge Thomas S. Kleeh said on Tuesday.
Between 2017 and 2018, while Mays worked the overnight shift at the Clarksburg VA hospital, 20 suspicious deaths were reported at the facility as patients began to experience sudden and drastic drops in blood sugar levels. As a nursing assistant, Mays was not cleared to administer medication; the position involved duties like monitoring vital signs and glucose levels in the blood.
As the deaths at the hospital mounted and then were reported to the VA inspector general, Mays was fired from her job. A subsequent report from the inspector general’s office found “serious, pervasive, and deep-rooted clinical and administrative failures” with the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center that allowed the killings to go on for almost one year, reported USA Today, which published an investigation into the hospital in 2019. That probe found that tests were not done to uncover what was causing the elderly men to die, while reports surrounding the incidents that would have brought about a larger inquiry were never filed.
Assistant U.S Attorney Jarod J. Douglas told the court that Mays had claimed to colleagues that "something always happens when I'm in the room, and I don't know why," while they were attempting to save the life of one victim. At one point, the newspaper reported, she performed chest compressions on a victim for 30 minutes, then complained that her arms “felt like rubber.” And she vented on Facebook about giving medication that would prolong the life of eventual victim George Shaw, a veteran she killed at the age of 81.
Mays will be serving life sentences for her involvement in the deaths of Army veterans Robert Lee Kozul Sr., 89, Archie D. Edgell, 84, Felix Kirk McDermott, 82, and a 96-year-old man identified the initials W.A.H.; Navy veteran Robert Edge Sr., 82; Air Force veteran Shaw., 81; and Army and Air Force veteran Raymond Golden, 88.
The federal government has agreed to settle numerous lawsuits filed by families of the veterans alleging a widespread system of failures at the hospital. The VA, which has been beleaguered for years after a 2014 scandal over patient wait times and saw its director fired amid his own ethics scandal in 2018, is responsible for roughly 9 million military veterans.
Additionally, Mays admitted she was connected to the death of Navy veteran Russell R. Posey Sr., 92, pleading guilty to one count of assault with intent to commit murder involving the death of “veteran R.R.P.” She was handed 20 additional years on that count. Charges were brought in cases where prosecutors believed they had sufficient evidence.
"I don't know why Reta did what she did,” Norma Shaw, who was married to George Shaw for 59 years, said on a video statement heard in court. “I don't know if we'll ever know. But she took my life away from me."