LUFKIN (AP) – The fate of a Texas nurse accused of killing five kidney dialysis patients by injecting them with bleach could soon be in a jury’s hands.
Closing arguments are set for Thursday in the capital murder trial of Kimberly Clark Saenz. Prosecutors allege Saenz caused the five patients’ deaths in April 2008 at a clinic in the East Texas city of Lufkin by injecting bleach into their dialysis lines. Two patients told jurors they saw Saenz use syringes to draw bleach from a cleaning pail and inject it into the IV lines of two other patients.
Saenz’s attorney, Ryan Deaton, argued she was made a scapegoat for faulty procedures, including improper water purification, at the DaVita Dialysis clinic about 125 miles northeast of Houston. Deaton also suggested clinic officials have fabricated evidence against Saenz.
The 38-year-old Saenz faces a possible death sentence if convicted of capital murder. Her trial, in its fourth week, began March 5.
She didn’t take the stand in her own defense but in a recording played at trial, the former nurse can be heard testifying before a grand jury that she felt “railroaded” by the clinic and “would never inject bleach into a patient.”
Saenz is charged with one capital murder count that accuses her of killing as many as five patients. She’s also charged with five counts of aggravated assault for injuries to five other patients.
Investigators testified they found Internet searches on Saenz’s computer about bleach poisoning in blood and whether bleach could be detected in dialysis lines.
Bleach is commonly used to disinfect plastic lines and other dialysis equipment at the clinic. Saenz’s attorneys said she was spotted measuring bleach into a syringe because she wanted to put the right amount into cleaning water.
Former DaVita employees who testified for prosecutors told jurors they never used syringes instead of measuring cups to ensure the proper amounts of bleach were being used in cleaning solutions. Dialysis patients spend up to three days a week tethered for hours to a machine that filters their blood because their kidneys can’t.
Saenz was charged a year after the clinic was closed for about two months in the wake of a rash of illnesses and deaths in April 2008.
Emergency crews had been called to the clinic as many as 30 times that April and made at least 19 runs. Seven of the calls were for cardiac problems.
There had been only two calls during the previous 15 months, according to the Texas Department of Health Services.
Denver-based health care giant DaVita Inc. investigated along with local, state and federal agencies.
A Food and Drug Administration report found some samples linked to some victims tested positive for bleach while others showed bleach “may have been present at one time.”
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