Witness in bleach trial says supervisor said 'I will not go down for this'

Kimberly Saenz. Source: Angelina County Jail.
Kimberly Saenz. Source: Angelina County Jail.

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - Day 14 of the capital murder trial of a former Lufkin dialysis nurse kicked off with a worker at the clinic explaining how a supervisor said she "will not go down for this. I will take someone with me."

Kimberly Clark Saenz, 38, of Pollok, is charged with capital murder and five counts of aggravated assault. She allegedly injected bleach into the bloodstream of kidney dialysis patients.

Connie Baker resumed the stand again Thursday morning to continue her testimony from Wednesday.

Saenz's attorney, Ryan Deaton, asked the witness about the team meeting that was called when the clinic shut down in April 2008.

"After the patients had left, we didn't really know what the meeting was called for," said Baker.

Deaton asked Baker to describe what she remembered from that meeting.

"The meeting was led by our regional manager, Amy [Clinton]," said Baker. "She pointed her finger at us and said, 'I will not go down for this. I will take someone with me.'"

Baker said this meeting led her to put in her two weeks' notice shortly thereafter.

"I felt very threatened by that," said Baker. "When that statement was made, I made up my mind to leave."

"How many people were there?" asked District Attorney Clyde Herrington.

Baker said everyone who was at work that day was present for the meeting.

"Kim was present. Sharon was present," said Baker.

The defense called upon Peter Cartwright, a consulting engineer, as the next witness. He testified that he was self-employed. He said he worked for a company for six years that manufactured the reverse-osmosis water system used at DaVita.

"I specialize in water treatment. I've been in the industry for 38 years," said Cartwright.

Deaton pulled out a chart illustrating the layout of the Lufkin DaVita Clinic. He had the witness point out where the carbon filters were at the clinic.

"The job of the carbon filters is to primarily remove chlorine that is in the city water," said Cartwright.

Deaton had the witness explain to the jury the process involved in the carbon filters cleaning out water.

"The primary concern, so far as water treatment in dialysis, is to eliminate bacteria," said Cartwright.

Cartwright said certain bacteria can be extremely harmful to one's health.

"When you were looking through DaVita's water log sheet, did you see anything that caused concern?" said Deaton.

"Quite a few things caused some concern," said Cartwright. One of the things that stood out to him specifically was the fact that DaVita employees were not meeting company policies.

"The requirements mandated by DaVita were not being met with daily readings," said Cartwright.

The witness said per the requirements, as he recalled, water should be tested 15 minutes after running the water through the carbon filter system. This way, fresh flowing water would provide an accurate reading, instead of water that has already been sitting.

Deaton pointed out that a DaVita employee tested the water only after it had run through the filter for seven minutes. Deaton also noted that the water log was not very accurate in showing water test times.

"In most cases, they seemed to round it off to the nearest 10 minute or 20 minutes in this case," said Cartwright.

The witness also pointed out that in reviewing the files at the Lufkin DaVita Clinic, he did not find that employees had proper training in testing the water.

Cartwright pointed out that, from what he could tell, the clinic did not appear to be testing the chlorine level in water on a daily basis.

Trihalomethane compounds were found in the water, according to the witness. Trihalomethanes are contaminants, he says, that can be unsafe in high concentrations.

The defense asked the witness his opinion on the clinic's practices regarding their water. Cartwright responded by saying he was "appalled" to find what he discovered in looking into the clinic. Cartwright said there were no training manuals to indicate even a minimal training at the clinic that employees were required to meet.

The prosecution asked the witness to point out where the clinic's standards were written. The witness said he could not recall. The prosecution also asked Cartwright what dates were those standard in operation. The witness replied that he did not remember.

The prosecution also asked the witness how much he made an hour and how many hours the witness has worked on this case. Cartwright replied he charged 300 dollars an hour, working about 20 hours so far in this case.

Referring to a documented record, the prosecution said on March 25, 2008, which was less than a week before cardiac arrests addressed in this case began occurring at the clinic, 14.4 new cubic feet of new granulated activated carbon was put into the water treatment system. This was pointed out to say it would be hard to believe the system stopped properly filtering water in the five weeks leading up to May 2008.

The prosecution pointed out that records did not reveal a positive value that would indicate bleach or chlorine in the water treatment system when the clinic tested the water in May.

Deaton readdressed the prosecution's questioning of the witness' pay, asking the witness what he's been paid to date. The witness replied he hasn't received any money.

"When they chart or say that they have tested this for less than .1, is that even correct?" said Deaton.

Based on the type of test strips the clinic used, Cartwright said that water log information was incorrect. He stated their test strips would not be able to accurately test water levels that low.

"Do things add up in this case?" said Deaton.

Cartwright said there seems to be lack of proper information to indicate the proper testing of water at the dialysis facility.

The defense called Jonathon Neidigh, an Assistant Professor of Basic Sciences at Loma Linda University in California.

Deaton asked Neidigh to explain his research understandings on patient blood lines and the contact with bleach. The witness talked about the research conducted on Marva Rhone and the areas that tested positive and negative for bleach in her blood lines.

Deaton asked Neidigh about his research findings, in comparison to Dr. David Jackson's. Jackson previously testified in this trial, as an expert witness for the prosecution. He testified that he identified the identity of victims' bloodlines and the chemicals found inside.

The witness briefly explained how the saline line works along with blood lines.

"The liquid in there is used to push the blood and return it back to patients so they don't lose unnecessary blood," said Neidigh.

"Did you look at a picture of Ms. Rhone's bloodlines?" said Deaton.

"I did," said Neidigh.

"What do you see in the blood lines?" said Deaton.

The witness said he could not clearly tell from pictures what was in Rhone's blood lines from the picture. He said he had to rely on Jackson's research.

Deaton directed his attention to asking the witness about the bloodline of Graciela Castenada.

"This is one of the bloodlines in his reports, he did not list any positive evidence for bleach," said Neidigh.

The witness testified that Jackson was very thorough in looking at multiple sites on the bloodlines for bleach. He stated Jackson used several methods to test each blood line. In Castenada's blood, there was a positive finding for a bleach or chlorine content, but the bloodline did not reveal any content of bleach or chlorine.

"The logical conclusion was that bleach or chlorine did not come through the bloodline," said Neidigh.

The witness concluded that the bleach content found in blood would have had to most likely come through natural causes. The witness said this appeared to be the case for a couple of the patients tested.

Deaton asked the witness about the fact that some parts of bloodlines seemed to test positive for bleach while other parts did not.

"The molecules can move from one end to another," said the witness.

Based on that information, Deaton asked the witness what his and Jackson's research on the bloodlines revealed.

"There is nothing in the bloodline data that is consistent with [bleach] being placed into a moving fluid that's flowing in one direction with access to a patient," said Neidigh. "The chlorate present had to be introduced when the fluid stopped moving," said Neidigh.

The witness agreed with Deaton that this would mean when the dialysis machine is shut off would be the only way chlorate was introduced into the bloodlines they examined.

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