LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - A jury is taking an overnight break in deliberating the case of a former dialysis nurse accused of killing five patients by inserting bleach into their bloodstreams.
The jury took the case around 1:45 p.m. Thursday after about 90 minutes of opening arguments.
By 7:00 p.m., the 12 men and women decided to break for the evening and resume deliberations at 9 a.m. Friday.
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.
Judge Barry Bryan read the charge to the jury shortly after 9 a.m. Thursday in a packed Lufkin courtroom.
Bryan reminded jurors that the state allows defendants to testify in their own defense. He said the fact that Saenz did not testify in this trial should not be held against her.
"In this case, the defendant has elected not to testify. You must not and cannot allude to that fact," said Bryan.
Bryan also reminded jurors that they cannot associate with anyone other than fellow jurors during deliberations. The jury was allowed to take notes during this case, which they will be allowed to refer to during deliberations. However, they are not intended to be the official source for information.
"You are not to use your notes as authority to persuade fellow jurors to what the evidence was during trial," said Bryan.
District Attorney Clyde Herrington presented his argument first, describing a scene to jurors of what he believes happened on April 28, 2008.
Herrington told jurors Saenz came into work that day, and Amy Clinton reassigned her, seemingly upsetting Saenz. He then recalled the testimony given in this trial, where a patient recalled her and other patient saw Saenz filling syringes with bleach.
"Ms. Hall begin to pray for a sign. She didn't know what to do. She was scared to tell," said Herrington.
Herrington described that dialysis patients came to dialysis treatment about 3 times a week. He recalled that Marie Bradley said that she had accepted dialysis treatment as a part of her life.
"Ms. Hamilton was scared because she didn't want her [Saenz] to do anything else to her," said Herrington.
The prosecution reminded the jury of the testimony of a former co-worker who said he met up with Saenz the day she did not attend the last DaVita team meeting.
"She tells him I didn't kill those people. Nobody had accused her at that point of killing anybody. Where did that come from?" said Herrington.
Herrington points out the days in which deaths occurred at the clinic.
"Many of these events occur in pairs," said Herrington.
Herrington then played an interview conducted with Saenz, where she expresses some curiosity in bleach being connected to medical devices. The prosecution directed the juror's attention to her body language, combined with what she was saying.
"I was just curious if our machines are hooked up and there was bleach in them, I mean I haven't researched it, but I just wonder what would happen if there were some bleach," said Saenz.
In her interview, Saenz was asked to describe the process of preparing and mixing bleach containers at the clinic.
"If I'm doing something wrong, I want to know that I'm doing something wrong because I don't want to kill anybody," said Saenz.
Herrington pointed out to jurors that Saenz's story changed between interviews with the police and before a grand jury. In the police interview, Herrington says Saenz did not mention a syringe until police brought it up.
"Only after she was asked, 'well can a syringe be involved in mixing bleach?' 'Well yea you can'," said Herrington.
However, Herrington says she has a different story before the grand jury.
"In the grand jury interview, she admitted she was trained in using a syringe," said Herrington.
The conflicting stories, Herrington says makes the testimony of Hamilton prove that Saenz is guilty.
Herrington reminded jurors of the task ahead of them of considering the evidence in this case.
Deaton then approached the jury for his closing arguments.
"They want you to pluck an Angelina County girl and send her away for murder," Deaton said as he addressed the jury.
He said the state's argument was nothing more than speculation.
Deaton addressed the first time Saenz was questioned and how the state was constantly bringing back her testimony.
He claims DaVita used Saenz as a scapegoat for sins of a Fortune 500 company.
He then used a Biblical reference , calling Saenz the "sacrificial goat".
He reminded the jury that Saenz's life lies in their hands. He also kept making referrals to Saenz as a scapegoat.
Deaton said the evidence must prove to them beyond a reasonable doubt -- it either will or will not.
He said there is no correct definition of beyond a reasonable doubt. He said the juror's job is simply to say the state either proved or did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt.
"Do your job as a juror and analyze the case at the highest level," said Deaton.
He said the system is not perfect because it is run by humans. They manipulate, lie and cheat. And as a result people have lost their lives when they were innocent.
He then described Saenz as a "regular person, just like you and me."
"Did she get money? Did she get power?" asked Deaton. Deaton said she's catching heat because she would complain about her job.
"Well, who doesn't?," asked Deaton.
Deaton emphasized motive established by the state and how it differentiates. He asked what Saenz motive was that day. He said he'd hoped that the jury finds that the state's wrong.
He tried to establish that no reasonable person would commit such a crime and not feel bad or guilty about it.
"If you use a reasonable thinking mind, then you know nothing happened April 28, 2008," said Deaton, referring to one of the days when a patient died.
Saenz was a newer employee and had just learned the system, Deaton said.
"Where did the motive come in that five- or six-month period? It just didn't. There's no way in that five- or six-month period, that she was so bitter and angry to want to kill somebody," expressed Deaton.
"If she didn't like her job, she simply could've gotten another one," stated Deaton.
He used the misconstrued testimony of witnesses and patients to say that the state's case is in disarray.
He blamed the patient's condition on the lack of accurate testimony.
Deaton said he would show the jury a video of Audra Hamilton as well as a video that showed Saenz being questioned after the incident, but that its intent was not to embarrass Saenz.
He kept emphasizing that the time, the jury will see, does not add up.
"It doesn't make sense because it didn't happen," said Deaton.
Deaton mentioned many of the witnesses who were ailing in health, blind in one eye, or just confused because of the length of time passed from the incident. He stressed that he was in no way belittling patients or picking on them, but that he was just showing an example of how their stories don't add up.
"They were lying. They were changing their story. They were doing everything they could to make a square head fit into a circle," said Deaton.
He said that the state used testimony from one witness who said, "I don't know what she did, but she did something," He said that was unreliable.
"Are you kidding me?" said Deaton.
He presented the videos he had mentioned before, and clarified that he was in no way making light of their testimony or of the situation.
The video contained Hall and how she was out of sorts when questioned by both counsels. She said she is tired all the time. And she said at the time she heard someone say "she's gonna kill us all."
"This is who the state is asking you to believe to put someone in prison. Again, I'm not poking fun at any witnesses," said Deaton.
Deaton accused DaVita of not caring enough about their patients, only of making money, and again mentioned that they were a Fortune 500 company.
"We all know what bleach does," said Deaton, " we all know why you have to wear gloves when you use bleach."
He observed that no patient acknowledged a burning feeling.
"Kim went to work that day, she was a med nurse. She did what she thought was the right thing to do. She reached in the bleach bucket. The patients thought they saw her do something that she just didn't do. They made themselves believe that she did something she just didn't do," Deaton said to the jury.
He said there was a lot of dishonesty both in questioning and in the court room.
"This is a woman whose life has been turned upside down." Said Deaton.
"You can't just pick somebody and convict them. It's just not right." Deaton said with fervor.
Deaton kept telling jurors to keep in mind that the testimony has changed during the four years of the investigation, stressing that the jury needs to remember that our justice system is not a perfect system. Deaton also kept calling testimony from the state's witnesses "absurd."
From her testimony, Deaton reminded the jury that Amy Clinton did not call police on April 28, 2008. He said the facility leader wasn't aware of the incident until 11 p.m. Deaton said the police did not show up to conduct interviews until weeks after the incidents occurred.
In his argument, Deaton said, "This case is simple: Davita doesn't care about its patients. End of story." He alleges that DaVita has no problem changing records. He accused the clinic of changing records on numerous occasions.
Deaton also went through bringing up testimonies to remind jurors of scenarios and patient histories that were mentioned in the case.
The defense called the findings on the computer seized from Saenz's parents' home a "red herring." He says the search that took place on the computer, the day after Thelma Metccalf died, was just the work of a nurse trying to find out what was wrong with her patient, not trying to kill her.
"Who thinks about looking up how to kill someone at 4 o'clock in the morning? That's just absurd," said Saenz.
Furthermore, Deaton argues that Saenz may have not been the one looking up the search. Someone, he says, may have been trying to get research on charges brought against Saenz.
"That's the only search. The next search is in May," said Saenz.
Deaton told jurors dialysis patients are very sick, and it would not take a lot to send them over the edge during treatment.
"I think there were plenty of factors that caused these patients' deaths. I don't think bleach was one," said Deaton.
Deaton played Saenz's police interview to jurors, where she recalled the clinic was trying to figure out what happened to the patients.
"We were trying to figure out what was going on," said Saenz.
In the interview, Saenz was recalling that she was told a couple patients were telling DaVita employees that they saw her inject bleach into patients. Saenz said the only thing she gave to patients was the saline she injected into patient lines earlier.
"I had put bleach in a syringe earlier to mix my bleach solution. Originally, I thought, 'Why would they say something like that?'" said Saenz.
Saenz kept talking in the interview and describing what she remembered that day.
"I know I would not do that. I would never inject bleach into a patient," said Saenz.
Toward the end of the clip, Saenz states that she feels she's being used to cover up fault.
"I feel like I was railroaded," said Saenz. "I'm a scapegoat, and that's how I feel."
Deaton pointed out that Saenz's interview was emotional and her voice was cracking. He also reiterates that it would not be fair to take Saenz's life from her.
"I want you to go back into that room and find her not guilty. That's the only right thing to do. Let her go back a mother, a wife. She is one of us," said Deaton.
"I think what I just heard was the most incorrect misrepresentation of facts," said Herrington in his response to Deaton's closing arguments.
Herrington pointed out that he felt Deaton was inaccurate in exaggerating facts to jurors. He said the only defense Deaton argues is that Saenz was used as a scapegoat for a "big bad company".
"Corporations are a name. People work at businesses. Amy Clinton is a nurse. She goes to work. She takes care of patients," said Herrington. "The only way for his client to be not guilty is to blame DaVita."
Herrington addresses the argument the defense makes about witnesses changing their testimonies.
"He calls witnesses to the stand and bullies them so they don't want to talk to them. Then he says, 'That's proof of a conspiracy,'" said Herrington.
Herrington points out Deaton's witness, Connie Baker, said employees mixed syringes with bleach, but she could not name an employee who she saw do it.
"She could not name a single employee, I asked her," said Herrington. "Not one, that mixed syringes with bleach."
The prosecution also argued that the "scapegoat" story that the defense is arguing came from when Saenz changed her story to appeal to the sympathy of the grand jury.
"Do you think she'd come to grand jury to confess? If she was going to do that she didn't need to go to grand jury. She went there to talk her way out of it," said Herrington.
Herrington then went through testimony Deaton challenged in his closing arguments, noting his discrepancies with what Deaton was saying.
Herrington argued that Deaton said patients did not show reactions like they should have if they were injected with bleach. Challenging this, Herrington says reactions depend on a patient's health, age, size, and other factors.
The prosecution then addressed the conspiracy theory the defense is claiming.
"What do you need before there's evidence there's a conspiracy?" said Herrington.
Herrington states there has to be something there that needs to be covered up before a conspiracy has taken place.
"You got to have a reason. You have to have something to hide," said Herrington.
Herrington said conspiracies also typically involve other people. He says it's hard to believe a group of people agreed to hold a secret for four years now.
"Ladies and gentleman, the most powerful man on earth, Richard Nixon, was taken out of office for conspiracy," said Herrington.
He says it is also hard and "ridiculous" when trying to pinpoint the time the conspiracy began.
Herrington also says looking at the sequence of events, it's hard to say it was coincidence these deaths occur. Herrington says it would be bizarre to believe Thelma Metcalf and Clara Strange had adverse occurrences 30 minutes apart and later died just of natural causes.
Herrington identified Marie Bradley sitting in the courtroom, and pointed to jurors that the incidents at the clinic have permanently affected her life. He says she is now and will continue to be skeptical of healthcare providers.
"Ms. Bradley, thank goodness, drives herself to this day to dialysis. But, she will never be the same," said Herrington.
The prosecution argued that the search for bleach found on the computer seized from Saenz's parents' home was before police investigation ever suggested that the patients had been injected with bleach. Herrington said Saenz was depressed, having troubles in her marriage, and unhappy with her job.
"I think she was having real problems in her life," said Herrington. "She's disgruntled and unhappy."
He says we can't explain these occurrences, much like not being able to understand why a disgruntled employee would shoot others at their job.
"Do we have to know why to recognize evil? Do we have to understand that?" said Herrington.
Herrington left the jury, saying that Saenz took the last bit of life, whatever amount the victims had, from them.
"It's the truth, and I ask you to seek that," said Herrington.