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Authors: John Foxjohn

Killer Nurse

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KILLER

NURSE

JOHN FOXJOHN

THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP

Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA

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Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

For more information about the Penguin Group, visit penguin.com.

KILLER NURSE

A Berkley Book / published by arrangement with the author

Copyright © 2013 by John Foxjohn.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author's rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

Berkley Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group.

BERKLEY
®
is a registered trademark of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

The “B” design is a trademark of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group,

a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

eBook ISBN: 978-1-101-60154-9

PUBLISHING HISTORY

Berkley premium edition / August 2013

Cover design by Jane Hammer.

Cover photos:
Hospital Hallway
© Randall Schwanke;
Biohazard Sign
© mtkang.

Interior text design by Laura K. Corless.

Most Berkley Books are available at special quantity discounts for bulk purchases for sales, promotions, premiums, fund-raising, or educational use. Special books, or book excerpts, can also be created to fit specific needs. For details, write: [email protected].

Contents

Title Page

Copyright

Dedication

Acknowledgments

 

PART I

Epigraph

CHAPTER 1

CHAPTER 2

CHAPTER 3

CHAPTER 4

CHAPTER 5

CHAPTER 6

CHAPTER 7

 

PART II

Epigraph

CHAPTER 8

CHAPTER 9

CHAPTER 10

CHAPTER 11

CHAPTER 12

 

PART III

Epigraph

CHAPTER 13

CHAPTER 14

CHAPTER 15

CHAPTER 16

 

PART IV

Epigraph

CHAPTER 17

CHAPTER 18

CHAPTER 19

CHAPTER 20

CHAPTER 21

CHAPTER 22

CHAPTER 23

CHAPTER 24

CHAPTER 25

 

Photo Inserts

I'd like to dedicate this book to the victims: Ms. Thelma Metcalf, Ms. Clara Strange, Mr. Garlin Kelley Jr., Ms. Cora Bryant, Ms. Opal Few, Ms. Marva Rhone, Ms. Carolyn Risinger, Ms. Debra Oates, Ms. Graciela Castaneda, and Ms. Marie Bradley, and all of their family members—especially Linda Few James and Donald Young.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I am sure that there are authors who can go through the process of writing a book of this nature with little or no help—I'm not one of those. Because of the vast number of people who have helped and contributed to this book, my biggest fear in writing this acknowledgment is leaving out people who were important to me in this process. Please, if I do, it wasn't intentional. First, I'd like to thank my agent, Jill Marsal; Catherine Knepper; Laury Frieber; and Berkley editor Shannon Jamieson Vazquez. Also, I'd like to thank someone who helped more than he knows: Kevin Flynn.

Along these same lines, I interviewed 237 people, and quite a few of them asked me not to mention their names, and of course, I kept my word on that. But still, you know who you are. Please know that my gratitude is just as great for you as those whose names are mentioned in this acknowledgment.

I would like to thank Clyde Herrington, not only for his cooperation, but his service to Angelina County.

Also from the Angelina County Court House: Art Bauereiss, Katrina Carswell, Layne Thompson, Judge Barry Bryan, Candace Parke, Deborah Lee, Charlotte Griffith, Paul Love, and Johnny Purvis.

Thanks to Chris Tortorice, Assistant U.S. Attorney.

Also the people I spent a lot of time with dealing with open records, release of information, and freedom of information requests: the ladies from Angelina County and district clerk's office—especially Kathy Claunch. Also, Health and Human Services, Texas Department of State Health Services, the Centers for Disease Control, Texas Attorney General's Office, Texas Department of Public Safety, Houston Police Department, and Texas Department of Corrections.

From the Lufkin Police Department: Sergeant Stephen Abbott, Sergeant Mike Shurley, and Christy Pate.

I'd also like to thank Joe Reikers, federal investigator, Office of Inspector General; Bill Horton, investigator, Texas Attorney General's Office; and several others who wished for their names not to be mentioned.

I'd like to thank Merry Bright for the medical knowledge.

For some of the insight into the defense: Steve Taylor, Cheryl Pettry, and LinMarie Garsee. And others from the defense team who didn't want their names used.

Thanks also to the twelve jurors and two alternates in the Saenz trial: Martha Moffett, Caren Brooks, Gail Brasuell, Brenda Gibson, David Bradford, Kimberly Flores, Daniel Phipps, Laura Bush, Karla Myers, Yolanda Bell, Larry Walker, Regina McAvoy, Willie Wigley, and Kristine Bailey.

Special thanks go to several DaVita employees—past and present—as well as those friends, family, and former schoolmates of Kimberly Saenz who wished to remain anonymous.

PART I

RISING RIVER

The quality of mercy is not strained.

It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven . . .

It is enthroned in the hearts of kings;

It is an attribute to God himself;

And earthly power doth then show likest God's

When mercy seasons justice.

—WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE

CHAPTER
1

THE OWL

Lightning flashed and thunder filled the sky as citizens of Angelina County, Texas, somberly rushed to the courthouse on Thursday morning, March 29, 2012. In addition to the county's residents, the horde included newspaper and TV journalists—local, state, and national—plus family and friends of the victims, as well as of the defendant, and of the lead defense attorney. The previous day, both sides of the trial had rested. All that was left in this historic case were closing arguments and jury deliberation to see if Kimberly Clark Saenz would become the county's first serial killer, and if so, would the jury elect to send a woman to Texas's infamous death row?

The trial had begun almost four weeks earlier, when Saenz (pronounced “signs”), an East Texas nurse, was charged with five counts of aggravated assault and one count of capital murder. Saenz, a former nurse at the DaVita Lufkin Dialysis Center, was accused of having harmed or killed many of the dialysis patients under her care. There were two things that made this case unique and garnered national attention: First, that one count of capital murder (a very serious charge that can carry the death penalty) actually included
five
murders. Second, the method Saenz was accused of using to injure and kill her alleged victims (by injecting the patients with bleach) had never been heard of before.

As the rain poured down, drivers circled the courthouse looking for parking places that didn't exist. If they were hoping someone would move, they were wasting their time—no one was leaving. The lucky ones who'd found parking spots earlier hurried through the downpour, anxious to get out of the rain and into the courtroom.

Prior to the Saenz trial, the Angelina County Courthouse had employed no security. But now sheriff's deputies patrolled the floor, and two stood before the locked courtroom doors with metal detectors. In addition to the media firestorm that would be sure to erupt no matter what the verdict was, a recent courtroom shooting in nearby Beaumont, Texas, had everyone's nerves on edge. Then there was the young man who'd called the DA's office on the second day of trial and informed authorities that he was coming from Louisiana to “get” Kimberly Saenz. He eventually showed up in Lufkin, but Deputy Sheriff Johnny Purvis and others were waiting. After patting the man down for weapons and not finding any, he eventually told them that he had heard about the trial on the news and he believed Kimberly Saenz had once tried to kill him. As it turned out, he had her confused with someone else. Although the threat didn't amount to anything, he'd been drawn by news reports of the trial, and in such a high-profile case, officials were acutely aware that there were plenty of other chances for trouble.

Cryptic comments and vague threats had also appeared on KTRE-TV's website from anonymous posters, apparently looking for vengeance against Saenz.
Law enforcement took these comments and potential threats seriously, and Sergeant Luna with the Angelina County Sheriff's Department confirmed that they had a lot to do with the extra security. Tensions were high even before the comments emerged, and the last thing this sensational trial needed was a violent incident in the courtroom.

The strain of the trial had worn down everyone involved. As the weeks slipped past, the attorneys and their assistants' attitudes had withered from friendly to a hard-jawed exhaustion. They now seemed to slump where they'd stood tall before.

On that rainy Thursday morning, the courtroom was full. Sitting behind the prosecution were the families of the victims—and given the number of victims, there were a
lot
of family members, most of whom believed that Saenz had killed or injured their loved ones. A smoldering rage seemed to burn under the surface, just waiting for a crack to escape.

On the other side of the courtroom sat Saenz's supporters, her family and the members of her church, who were fervent believers in Saenz's innocence and whose attitudes seemed to say that they would brook no disagreement.

The combustible atmosphere spilled out beyond the courtroom doors, as did the rampant speculation about Saenz's guilt or innocence. People gathered in groups in the hallways to discuss what was happening inside, or rushed out during breaks to find a quiet place to make calls and send texts. In the coffee shops, restaurants, barbershops and beauty salons, and even churches, everywhere people gathered, the debate raged whether Saenz was guilty or not, and whether the jury would actually convict her.

Citizens with no more experience of the law than what they'd seen on
Law and Order
were saying things like, “The preponderance of evidence doesn't measure up to a conviction.” In truth, the citizens of Angelina County overwhelmingly believed that Saenz was guilty but would walk out of the courtroom a free woman. According to a jailer who heard the remark, one inmate in the county jail awaiting transport to prison for embezzlement of six figures from her employer said, “I got thirteen years for stealing money, and she killed five people and she's going to get away with it.”

But of course, Kimberly Clark Saenz's destiny wasn't in her hands. That would be up to twelve of her peers.

* * *

Angelina County has two district courts, and both of them are located on the second floor of the courthouse. The 159th district courtroom, the older, rundown one, sits in the front at the landing of the stairs. The 217th district courtroom, the new, modernized one, is in the back of the second floor.

Originally, the trial was scheduled to take place in the newer courtroom, but during
voir dire
, Judge Barry Bryan changed the location. The older one was three times the size of the newer one, and he correctly assumed that they would need all the space they had available.

As it turned out, not even the older courtroom was large enough to accommodate all the spectators. Two small windows in the doors allowed people to peek in, but during the trial, the only peeking done was from TV cameras; film crews were barred from the courtroom and had to make do with filming through the windows. Inside were two sections with a rail and a small swinging gate that separated the court from the large spectator section. Besides a hint of stale sweat and urine, the two sections of pew-like seats with dirty, stained cushions, scratched and scarred from decades of use, dominated the back part of the courtroom. The walls on two sides were mostly comprised of dark paneling, and the wall to the east had large windows covered by dark venetian blinds that allowed shards of light through.

However, on this morning, with the rain and overcast sky, little light bled through—just enough to reflect eerily off the large marble slab on the wall behind the judge's bench. Sirens from the fire station a block away cut through the silence. Instead of dampening the mood of the spectators packed into the room, the noise heightened the tension.

The strain inside the courtroom dialed up several notches when thirty-eight-year-old Kimberly Clark Saenz strolled in. Although facing a possible death sentence, her mood, either by design or temperament, didn't match the weather or that of the spectators. At approximately five-feet-four and weighing in the neighborhood of one-seventy, she had shoulder-length dark hair, parted on the side and held in place with a barrette. Heavy makeup helped hide acne scars.

On this morning she wore black slacks, a teal-colored blouse with a flowery embellished neckline under a dove gray blazer, and a three-strand necklace of large turquoise, olive, jasper, and pink stones.

Waiting on Saenz and the finish of the trial was fifty-three-year-old Clyde Herrington, the district attorney for Angelina County. Herrington could best be described as pudgy, and when he walked, his feet pointed out at forty-five-degree angles. He wore glasses and his brown hair was thin, disappearing slightly at the back of the crown, with only a spattering of gray mixed in.

The veteran district attorney, who was prosecuting his last big case before intending to retire at the end of the year, led off with his closing arguments. In contrast to everyone else in the courtroom, his demeanor was soft and seemingly unaffected by the circumstances and the extreme anxiety and responsibility he shouldered. His words and body language had remained even-tempered throughout the trial, except when he'd caught a witness lying. Only then had he shown anger.

For thirty minutes, Herrington reminded the jury about the two eyewitnesses, what they'd seen and said, and how everything they'd told the police and had later testified to had proven correct.

Herrington also showed sections of Kimberly Saenz's taped interview with the police—including the part where, unprompted, she told them she'd never researched bleach poisoning. The jury again got to see that she'd said this on her own, not as an answer to a police question. This interview had also revealed several things that were in direct contradiction to what Saenz would later testify to the grand jury—including an acknowledgment that she'd used a 10cc syringe to measure bleach even though she knew she wasn't supposed to.

Herrington next showed the interview with the grand jury, where Saenz contradicted what she'd told the police, but did tell them that she thought that DaVita, her employer, was using her as a scapegoat. Herrington pointed out that in her first interview with the police, Saenz didn't have an attorney to tell her what to say. He called the grand jury testimony “the birth of the scapegoat theory.”

The DA also submitted pictures of all the victims. While the jury had heard the names a thousand times, the pictures connected the dots for them—they literally gave faces to the victims, making them human, not just statistics.

It wasn't until Herrington finished the first part of his closing argument and turned the podium over to the defense attorney that he seemed to become tense. Ryan Deaton's reputation among his adversaries on the prosecution side was that he might misrepresent facts, and Herrington was bracing himself for it.

Deaton's athletic physical appearance and young age contrasted sharply with Herrington. Deaton had a fashionable three-day growth of hair on his face, and stood a few inches over six feet with wide shoulders. There was a permanent scrape mark on his forehead, just above the bridge of his nose. His shaved head, an apparent attempt to conceal early male pattern baldness, stood out especially in the afternoons with a five o'clock shadow. Deaton's shaved head did more than hide his lack of hair. When he got angry or upset, a bright red splotch about four to five inches in diameter appeared on the left side of the back of his head, a dead giveaway that things weren't going his way.

As Deaton began his closing arguments, something occurred that left an indelible impression: an owl hooted a couple of times just outside the courthouse window. Deep East Texas is steeped in traditions and in some cases superstitions—one of which is that hearing the hoot of an owl during the day means imminent death. It's a superstition not only confined to East Texas; many other cultures also look on the owl as an omen of death or disaster. For instance, the Romans believed that the deaths of people such as Julius Caesar, Augustus, and several other famous leaders were predicted by the hoot of an owl.

To those who believed in such things, it seemed ominous. But if Deaton heard the owl or knew about its significance, he didn't show it. He went on to speak for almost two hours with his closing, reiterating his main argument in support of Saenz's innocence: he blamed DaVita and accused them of a cover-up—of using his client as a scapegoat. He reminded the jury that DaVita was a huge Fortune 500 company. He told the jury and the spectators about Biblical goats, and how the Jews would cast all their sins on the goat and send it out to die as a sacrifice to rid themselves of all their own sins. He compared this to what DaVita had done to his client.

He begged the jury not to let this big company come into East Texas and snatch one of their own away from her home—they couldn't let a corporate giant blame this poor East Texas girl for their sins.

Deaton also blamed the water in the dialysis center for the deaths and injuries to the patients. He pointed out that Saenz was “only one of three employees that were giving meds, and that was how she was connected to all the patients.” He told the jury that one of the witnesses had claimed that Saenz injected 20cc of bleach, but that wasn't true—the witness never said how much bleach was in the syringe. What she'd actually said was that Saenz had used two syringes.

Deaton reminded the jury of how another witness had changed her testimony. In fact, he told the jury, she had been told how to testify in the trial. He left out how she'd testified that the instructions she'd received had been simply to tell the truth.

The more Deaton spoke, the redder Herrington's face got and the madder he became.

Still Deaton wasn't done. He told the jury that the doctor overseeing the DaVita clinic hadn't cared enough about his patients to make them go to the hospital after it was reported that two patients had been injected with bleach. Deaton played his sympathy card—pointing out that his client was a daughter, wife, and the mother of two children. He told the jury about how the police had unfairly snatched Saenz from her trailer home, took her to the police station, and grilled her.

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