A week after a former Nashville nurse was convicted in the death of a patient, the uproar over the fallout has spilled into the upcoming district attorney race.
The patient's family called comments by some candidate candidates "humiliating" and "degrading," and says the ongoing national debate over the case has "retraumatized" her family, according to a statement released by District Attorney Glenn Funk's office.
Charlene Murphey, 75, died at Vanderbilt University Medical Center on Dec. 27, 2017, after being injected with the wrong drug. Murphey was supposed to receive a dose of Versed, a sedative, but was instead injected with vecuronium, which left her unable to breathe, prosecutors have said.
RaDonda Vaught 38, was found guilty Friday of two charges, criminally negligent homicide and abuse of an impaired adult, for her failure to catch the mistake at several points before Murphey was injected. Vaught was also slammed for leaving Murphey with scan technicians and not personally monitoring her vitals after giving the medication.
Vaught took responsibility for her actions immediately after and in each interview about the circumstances. Prosecutors agreed there was no evidence she intended to kill Murphey.
RaDonda Vaught: Key players in the case against former Nashville nurse
The case has ignited debate among the medical community.
Some worry the decision to try the case in criminal court, instead of by professional regulatory boards, could make people fearful of reporting mistakes and down the road lead to issues with patient safety if broken systems aren't caught.
Funk, the incumbent Democratic DA who is seeking reelection, insists that interpretation is baseless.
"When the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation brought this case to me, I found out this was not about one mistake," Funk wrote in a statement released Thursday afternoon.
In the hours after the verdict, candidate Sara Beth Myers issued a statement calling Vaught's actions "civil medical malpractice" that should not have been handled in criminal court.
"The DA's decision to charge this nurse is just one more example of how his misjudgments continue to make our community more divided and less safe. It's time for change," she wrote Friday. The statement was included in a fundraising pitch on social media and on her website.
Funk fired back on Thursday.
"My opponents have taken the side of the person convicted by a jury in this case. As your District Attorney, I take the side of the victim Charlene Murphey and her family," he wrote.
In the first formal statement since the trial, Murphey's daughter-in-law Chandra Murphey echoed his sentiments.
"We thought we had closure. We may never get over the reaction to this verdict," she wrote. "Our mother, Charlene Murphey, was a caring and loving person. Those using her death for personal gain should be ashamed."
The family's statement did not name Myers or fellow Democratic candidate P. Danielle Nellis directly.
Myers, through a spokesperson, on Thursday stood by her initial statement.
Nellis released a statement on the verdict Wednesday and deferred most questions to it when reached by phone Thursday.
She told The Tennessean her opponents were both making the same misstep.
"The statement to categorically bar prosecution in any category of cases is the same as the incumbent making statements blocking bathroom bills and mask mandates," Nellis told The Tennessean. "Just because it is the right statement, it still really diminishes the public trust in the office."
In her statement Wednesday she offered her condolences to the Murphey family and a reminder that public trust in juries was vital.
She also slammed Funk for choosing to take Vaught's case to a jury while accepting plea deals in other high profile cases.
“The incumbent has shown us repeatedly that his choice to charge or not charge an individual in high-profile cases cannot be trusted," she wrote. "The incumbent’s decision-making continues to erode the public trust in a system fraught with its own issues."
Vaught's attorney Peter Strianse told The Tennessean on Friday that his client was uninterested in any plea discussions that arose throughout the case.
Nellis agreed with her opponent Myers that the case should have been handled in civil court.
In his statement released Thursday, Funk hinted he believed civil or regulatory avenues were insufficient.
Vaught was investigated by the nursing licensing board in the months after Murphey's death and was not at the time recommended to lose her license or be suspended.
But nearly a year after the event, an anonymous tip, a surprise inspection and state and federal investigations led to threatened sanctions for VUMC and a a criminal indictment for Vaught. After going before the nursing board last year, Vaught was stripped of her license.
"Now, with this conviction she can never get her license back. That is the outcome Charlene Murphey's family wanted. They wanted justice for Charlene Murphey and that is what our office achieved for them," Funk wrote.
The candidates are seeking the Democratic nomination in the May 3 primary. Early voting runs April 13-28. There are no Republican candidates, all but assuring the winner of the primary will win in the Aug. 4 general election.
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: RaDonda Vaught, ex-nurse, verdict: Murphey family releases statement