CLARKSBURG, W.Va. – Reta Mays, 46, the Harrison County woman who admitted to killing seven patients at the Louis A Johnson VA Medical Center, in Clarksburg, was sentenced to seven consecutive life sentences, plus 20 years, Tuesday, during a three-hour-long hearing in U.S. District Court.
In July 2020, Mays pleaded guilty to seven counts of second-degree murder and one count of assault with intent to commit murder, admitting to injecting all of them with unneeded insulin.
Mays’ victims were: veterans Robert Edge Sr., Robert Kozul, Archie Edgell, George Shaw, W.A.H., Felix McDermott, and Raymond Golden, while Mays pleaded guilty to assault with intent to commit murder involving the death of veteran Russell Posey.
During the hearing, Mays, in tears, gave a brief statement. “There’s no words I can say that can offer the families any comfort. I can only say I’m sorry for the pain I caused them and my family.”
Mays’ words came after several statements from family members of the victims:
- Robert Edge, Jr., the son of a victim Robert Edge, Sr.: “I do not forgive you. I would punish you with my own hands if it would do any good. I want you to experience what death feels like.”
- Becky Kozul, speaking for victim Robert Kozul: “Why should you ever be let out of prison?”
- Melanie Proctor, daughter of victim Felix McDermott: “You are a coward.”
- Norma Shaw, widow of victim George Shaw: “In my heart I know I need to forgive her for what she did, and someday I will, but not today. I know that judgement will come one day.”
- Amanda Edgell, daughter-in-law of victim Archie Edgell: “What gave you the right to decide to take him from his loved ones?”
Prior to the sentence being handed down, Mays’ attorney described the mental issues she suffered from, including PTSD from a sexual attack while serving in the military in Iraq. Her attorney said that the VA knew of Mays’ mental issues, but allowed her to work with patients anyway. Mays’ counsel concluded by asking for a sentence on the lower end of the scale.
Meanwhile U.S. Attorneys debunked a possible “mercy killings” motive: “The patients did not go here to die. They did not need mercy,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jared Douglas said. Douglas asked Judge Kleeh for the maximum sentence.
Mays’ attorneys asked that Judge Kleeh recommend that she be sent to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons’ Federal Medical Center Carswell, in Texas, which has a mental health unit. With no objection from U.S. Attorneys, Kleeh agreed.
Several law enforcement officials issued statements following the sentence:
“In a case where we are confronted with the horrific crimes committed by the defendant against those who gave so much of themselves to serve this country, justice is somewhat of an elusive concept. No amount of prison time will erase the pain and loss that the families of these eight brave and honorable men have experienced. These men are heroes in our community, state, and country, and deserved so much more,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Randolph Bernard. “Mays will now spend every minute of the rest of her life where she belongs, in prison.”
“While responsibility for these heinous criminal acts lies with Reta Mays, an extensive healthcare inspection by our office found the facility had serious and pervasive clinical and administrative failures that contributed to them going undetected,” said VA Inspector General Michael Missal. “I hope that the victims’ families can find some measure of solace knowing that Mays was caught and punished, and that steps are being taken to help ensure other families do not suffer the same loss. I would like to thank the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the FBI, and the West Virginia State Police for their strong partnership throughout this complex investigation.”
VA Inspectors arrived at the Clarksburg VAMC within 24 hours of being called and were able to get Mays removed the patient environment, likely saving lives, Missal said. In a report set to be published Tuesday, inspectors found “serious, pervasive and deep-rooted clinical and administrative deficiencies at the medical center,” Missal said. A “series of missed opportunities” contributed to Mays’ criminal actions and for allowing her actions to go on for as long as they did, Missal continued.
Their findings included:
- From her time as an employee at the North Central Regional Jail, Mays had allegations against her of excessive force, which should’ve come up in a background check, Missal explained.
- A second background check opportunity by the VA, was missed in 2017, he said.
- Employees had access to the medication room and medication cart, which they should not have.
- VA physicians failed to order diagnostic tests for seven of the eight victims and for the one they did order, the wrong test was called for.
- There was also a lack of communication between doctors, nurses and other VA employees.
- The events were never reported to the patient safety manager, most likely because that person never trained the staff on what types of things they should report.
- Officials had a mortality tracker that no one noticed anything on.
In the report, VA Inspectors have issued 15 recommendations for the Clarksburg VAMC, including looking at other patients cases.
Officials at the Clarksburg VA issued statement Tuesday afternoon:
The Department of Veterans Affairs and Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center team grieve the tragic loss of each of these Veterans, and we extend our deepest condolences to their families, loved ones and the Clarksburg community. We are grateful to see some justice for the victims in this case, however, we remain saddened at the loss of these Veterans under our care. What happened at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center was devastating and heartbreaking, and we want to assure Veterans and families that we are determined to rebuild their trust and reassure them that this will not happen again.
Officials described their investigation, which included looking at all 1,200 VAMC employees, before narrowing it down to Mays.
“It is beyond disturbing that someone would seek out the opportunity to work as a medical professional to aid the sick, and then twist their duty and willingly end the life of their patients,” said FBI Pittsburgh Acting Special Agent in Charge Carlton Peeples. “I hope today’s sentence brings peace and closure to the families of these veterans. It certainly sends the message that when you break the trust you are given and, in the process break the law, there are consequences, no matter who you are or what your profession is.”
Statements from WV’s Congressional Delegation:
U.S. Senator Joe Manchin(D-WV):
“The last several years have been incredibly painful for families and loved ones of the Veterans murdered at the Clarksburg VAMC. Although the sentence is long overdue, I was pleased to see this criminal locked away for life and receive the maximum sentence of seven consecutive life sentences plus 20 years in prison. I hope this robust sentencing can bring some sense of peace to the victims’ families,” said Senator Manchin. “The OIG report released today revealed what we already knew to be true: the Clarksburg VAMC was completely void of leadership and patient safety was not prioritized. Now it is time to ensure the negligence we saw in Clarksburg never happens again and to hold those accountable who looked the other way while this happened. The quality of care our Veterans receive at West Virginia VAMCs and VA facilities across the nation is of the utmost importance, and I am determined to ensure every Veteran has access to the safe, quality healthcare they deserve. I look forward to meeting with VA Secretary Dennis McDonnough when he travels to West Virginia soon to begin our frank discussion on how the VA will institute a change of culture in Clarksburg, and certify that all patient safety procedures and background adjudications are being followed. I also thank the prosecutors who have worked tirelessly to put this monster away for life.
Most importantly, may we forever remember those Veterans who lost their lives and the families who will forever miss them. I know all West Virginians join me in praying for the souls of Veterans Robert Edge Sr., Robert Kozul, Archie Edgell, George Shaw Sr., W.A.H., Felix McDermott, Raymond Golden, Russell Posey and the many others who may have been impacted through this act of negligence and homicide.”
U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito(R-WV):
“While today’s sentencing may not heal the hurt and pain felt by the victims’ families or bring back the innocent lives lost, it is an appropriate and important step toward justice. The actions of Reta Mays were horrifying and sickening, and I hope today’s sentencing will help provide some sort of closure in what has been a long and painful journey. Going forward, it is important that we make sure our veterans receive the best care possible, feel safe while receiving care at our West Virginia VA medical facilities, and tragedies like this never, ever happen again. I am committed to continuing to work to create solutions that will ensure our VA’s in West Virginia and across the country are following the right protocols that protect patients and ensure they are delivered the best possible care.”
Rep. David McKinley(R-1st District):
“The situation at the Clarksburg VA was sickening and never should have happened. We cannot begin to understand the grief and anger of the families whose loved ones were murdered. Today the families of these veterans were finally able to receive justice from the sentencing of Reta May,” McKinley said. “Going forward we must continue to work with VA leaders and review the Office of Inspector General report to improve conditions and transparency at VA hospitals to ensure what happened here never happens again.
“Our veterans have sacrificed so much for our country, and too often the VA has let them down. They deserve better. We will continue to work to reform the VA and provide oversight, so our veterans have peace of mind every time they go to a VA facility,” McKinley added.
While Mays had entered guilty pleas related to eight deaths, evidence has suggested that there are other deaths that she has not been charged with.
Since Mays’ guilty pleas, the federal government has settled civil lawsuits with the families of 10 victims.