Hike sentence

RaDonda Vaught sentenced to three years of probation on a devious sentence, could have her file expunged

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A former Tennessee nurse whose medication error killed a patient was sentenced to three years probation on Friday as hundreds of healthcare workers gathered outside the courthouse warning that criminalizing such errors will lead to more deaths in hospitals.

The moment nurse RaDonda Vaught realized she had given a patient the wrong medicine, she rushed to the doctors to inform them of her fatal mistake. Vaught immediately informed the doctors and made a full report of his error to Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Vaught was convicted in March of criminally negligent homicide and gross negligence of an intoxicated adult. She accidentally administered the paralyzing drug vecuronium instead of the sedative Versed to Charlene Murphey, 75, on December 26, 2017.

Vaught’s criminal prosecution for fatal medical error has made her case a major talking point in an ongoing national discussion about nursing shortages and patient safety.

A state judge imposed the sentence on RaDonda Vaught after he apologized to the relatives of the victim, Charlene Murphey.

“When Mrs. Murphey died, part of me died with her,” Vaught said.

Nashville Criminal Court Judge Jennifer Smith said Vaught would receive diversion, a way for first-time offenders to have their charges dropped and their records expunged after successfully completing probation. Prosecutors had opposed diversion, although they did not oppose probation.

RaDonda Vaught and her attorney Peter Strianse listen to the reading of the verdicts at the end of her trial in Nashville, Tennessee, Friday, March 25, 2022.
(Stephanie Amador/The Tennessean via AP, Pool)

Defense attorney Peter Strianse listens to RaDonda Vaught speak to members of the press after a verdict was released in his trial, Friday, March 25, 2022, in Nashville, Tenn.

Defense attorney Peter Strianse listens to RaDonda Vaught speak to members of the press after a verdict was released in his trial, Friday, March 25, 2022, in Nashville, Tenn.
(Stephanie Amador/The Tennessean via AP, Pool)

The crowd of protesting nurses outside cheered, cried and hugged each other after hearing the sentence. The relief came after healthcare workers spent hours in the sun and clung to every word of the judge’s lengthy explanation of the sentence, some bound in a chain with their hands locked.

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The fact that Vaught, 38, faced criminal penalties became a rallying point for many nurses who were already fed up with poor working conditions exacerbated by the pandemic. The crowd outside listened to the hearing through loudspeakers and cheered as some relatives of the victim said they would not want Vaught jailed.

“Knowing my mom, the way my mom was and everything, she wouldn’t want to see her serve time in prison. That’s just mom. Mom was a very forgiving person,” Michael Murphey told the court. Charlene Murphey’s husband, however, wanted her to serve time in prison, relatives testified.

Vaught apologized to the family in court, saying words will never fully express his “remorse and sadness”.

“Saying I’m sorry doesn’t seem like enough, but you deserve to hear this and know that I’m truly sorry for what happened,” Vaught told the Murphey family.

In assessing whether to grant Vaught diversion, Smith cited Vaught’s remorse as well as his honesty about the medication error.

Assistant District Attorney Debbie Housel shows a nurse pin to the jury, a symbolic pin for newly graduated nurses during opening statements at the trial of former Vanderbilt nurse RaDonda Vaught at the Justice AA Birch Building in Nashville , Tenn., Tuesday, March 22, 2022.

Assistant District Attorney Debbie Housel shows a nurse pin to the jury, a symbolic pin for newly graduated nurses during opening statements at the trial of former Vanderbilt nurse RaDonda Vaught at the Justice AA Birch Building in Nashville , Tenn., Tuesday, March 22, 2022.
(Stephanie Amador/The Tennessean via AP, Pool)

Speaking ahead of her sentencing, Vaught apologized to Murphey’s family if the discussion of the hospital’s systemic problems and the danger of criminalizing mistakes had distracted from the death of their loved one.

“I’m sorry that this public outpouring of support for me has caused you to go through this again and again,” she told them. “No one has forgotten your beloved, no one has forgotten Mrs. Murphey. We are all horribly, horribly sorry for what happened.”

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After Vaught was found guilty in March, healthcare workers began posting on social media that they were leaving bedside nursing for administrative positions, or even leaving the profession altogether. They said the risk of going to jail for a mistake made nursing intolerable.

Vaught supporters wore purple T-shirts reading “#IAmRaDonda” and “Seeking justice for nurses and patients in a BROKEN system” on Friday as they listened to speeches from fellow nurses and supporters. They also observed a minute of silence in remembrance of Charlene Murphey.

The crowd outside listened to the sentencing over loudspeakers at the Nashville courthouse and cheered when some relatives of the victim said they would not want jail time for Vaught.

People demonstrate outside the courthouse where former nurse RaDonda Vaught's sentencing hearing is being held Friday, May 13, 2022 in Nashville, Tennessee.

People demonstrate outside the courthouse where former nurse RaDonda Vaught’s sentencing hearing is being held Friday, May 13, 2022 in Nashville, Tennessee.
(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Aleece Ellison traveled from Texas to join them. An emergency room nurse for 14 years, she said she broke down crying when Vaught was convicted.

“Never in 14 years have I felt so helpless,” she said. “That could be me.” She came to Nashville to “let the world know that criminalizing a mistake, an honest mistake, is not a direction we want to go in.”

Janie Reed, who drove in from Memphis, said she became a nurse practitioner several years ago because “the bedside was getting dangerous. … There were never enough nurses.”

“I don’t usually do that kind of stuff,” she said of the protest. “It excites me so much. Nurses are going to go to jail and more people are going to die because they won’t report their mistakes.”

Vaught admitted to making several mistakes that led to the fatal injection, but his attorney argued that systemic problems at Vanderbilt University Medical Center were at least partly to blame.

People demonstrate outside the courthouse where former nurse RaDonda Vaught's sentencing hearing is being held Friday, May 13, 2022 in Nashville, Tennessee.

People demonstrate outside the courthouse where former nurse RaDonda Vaught’s sentencing hearing is being held Friday, May 13, 2022 in Nashville, Tennessee.
(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

People demonstrate outside the courthouse where former nurse RaDonda Vaught's sentencing hearing is being held Friday, May 13, 2022 in Nashville, Tennessee.

People demonstrate outside the courthouse where former nurse RaDonda Vaught’s sentencing hearing is being held Friday, May 13, 2022 in Nashville, Tennessee.
(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Speaking at Friday’s hearing, Michael Murphey spoke about the impact his mother’s death had on the family.

“I was at work when all of this happened so I couldn’t say goodbye to my mum. I couldn’t give her a hug or a kiss,” he said. “My father suffers from it every day. He goes to the cemetery once or twice a week. He goes out and cries. He is 83 years old.”

His wife, Chandra Murphey, also testified Friday about how things were before her mother-in-law’s death.

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“We used to always get together for family dinners,” she said. “We did so many things together as a family, and it was over in a split second for us. We still have her Christmas presents in our attic wrapped.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.