William George Davis, a former East Texas nurse accused of killing four patients at a Tyler hospital, was likened to a serial killer during the first day of his trial on Tuesday.
Davis, 37, of Hallsville, who wore a suit and tie to court, entered a not guilty plea at the start of his trial in the 114th District Court.
He is charged with capital murder of multiple people on accusations of introducing air into patients’ arterial systems while he was a nurse at Christus Trinity Mother Frances Louis and Peaches Owen Heart Hospital in Tyler, causing their deaths, according to 2018 and 2021 indictments.
Following Davis’ plea, Smith County District Attorney Jacob Putman began his opening statements saying people watch movies about serial killers but they never think they will be near one.
Putman said that in 2017 and 2018, Davis went into several patients’ rooms without anyone knowing so he could inject air into their arterial systems and kill them.
The victims named in the documents are John Lafferty, Ronald Clark, Christopher Greenaway and Joseph Kalina.
Putman described how each of the patients received heart-related surgery at the hospital, and each were stable post-surgery.
He told the jury after Greenaway had surgery in August 2017, Davis was asked to watch the patient while the physician went out for lunch.
When the doctor returned, Putman said Greenaway had gone from healthy to unconscious. Greenaway suffered stroke-like symptoms late that night.
Strokes are sometimes common after heart surgery, but this was a “stroke like they’d (nurses and physicians) never seen before,” Putman said.
A CT scan showed air in the arterial spaces of his brain, which is not normal, Putman said.
“Doctors and nurses get together to figure out what happened,” he said. “The fact that a nurse would do something bad is not even on the list.”
Greenaway died a few days later after experiencing the stroke-like symptoms and after the radiologists found the air in his brain.
Putman also described what happened to Kalina, who became severely brain-damaged overnight and died two years later. Kalina was stable and in good condition post-surgery; however, the arterial lines in Kalina’s brain were similar to Greenaway’s brain.
Putman told the jury that Davis initially told hospital officials he reset an IV pump for Kalina, but later said he saw a problem with the arterial line.
Davis was suspended without pay while hospital leaders investigated what happened, Putman said, adding Christus leaders saw a need to call the police and review other patients’ records.
He said capital murder requires proof that someone caused the deaths of at least two people. He added the only nurse working in that area when each incident occurred was Davis.
“We’re going to prove to you all four, but two is all that’s needed,” Putman said. “No one expects this is going to happen to them — certainly not in a hospital. We’re going to ask you to find him guilty of capital murder because that’s what he did.”
Davis’ attorney Phillip Hayes told the jury that Davis is charged just because he was at the hospital when these incidents occurred.
Hayes said strokes are not uncommon in the ICU. He asked the jury to keep an open mind as they hear evidence during the next few days and weeks.
The prosecution briefly called three witnesses who are involved in record-keeping at Christus Mother Frances.
Donna Thedford, Greenaway’s wife, testified that her husband was doing well after surgery in 2017, but she received a call at 4 a.m. saying she needed to get to the hospital immediately.
When he returned from an MRI, he was lying still and a nurse said Greenaway didn’t have any brain activity. He died soon after and donated his organs.
Dr. Norman C. Sulser, an anesthesiologist at Christus who administered the anesthesia for Greenaway’s procedure, said Greenaway had very few comorbidities and the surgery went smoothly.
Sulser said during testimony that he was shocked when he learned the following day that Greenaway was on a ventilator. A CT scan showed Greenaway had massive air in the arterial system of his brain that basically shut down the organ. He said he’d never seen something like that happen.
Sulser said the use of the arterial line is a meticulous process to make sure little to no air gets in the line. He also demonstrated the arterial line device, which is similar to an IV, to the jury.
Radiologist Dr. Douglas Hughes, of Virtual Radiologic, testified Tuesday that he reviewed Greenaway’s CT scan taken in the early morning hours of Aug. 4, 2017. He said that scan is one he will never forget.
Hughes, who is responsible for interpreting brain imaging, testified the scan showed dark areas of the skull that were concerning because it would mean there is air, liquid or fat in the brain.
Through a further review of the scan, Hughes determined the spots were air and he described the scan as “very abnormal.”
Hughes testified there was no evidence that Greenaway suffered a stroke from a blood clot. He said after seeing the scan, he was filled with confusion and disbelief. Hughes thought Greenaway may have had brain surgery rather than heart surgery.
Davis has been in the Smith County Jail since his April 2018 arrest on bonds totaling $8.75 million. He was indicted on charges of capital murder, murder and five counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
The first day of the trial concluded around 4:30 p.m. The trial is set to resume Wednesday morning.