A parade of expert witness testimony heard in the trial of nurse accused of injecting patients with bleach

Published: Mar. 14, 2012 at 3:12 PM CDT|Updated: Mar. 14, 2012 at 7:12 PM CDT
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Testimony from expert witnesses is taking center stage this week during the capital murder trial of a former DaVita Lufkin Dialysis Center nurse accused of injecting her patients with bleach.

Wednesday's testimony began with the state calling upon John Crowe, a chemist with the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) Forensic Chemistry Center.

He briefly explained his background and job requirements to the jury.  Then, he explained how he became involved in the DaVita case.

"I was asked to take a look by Dave Jackson," said the witness.

David Jackson took the stand Tuesday afternoon, testifying that he identified the identity of victims' bloodlines and the chemicals found inside.  Likewise, Crowe was also asked to look at the syringes.

"We found material present that was consistent with sodium hydrochloride," said Crowe of his testing of a syringe.

The witness testified to finding these same results in several syringes given to him to analyze.

Prosecutors then called upon another scientist with the FDA's Forensic Chemistry Center. Biologist, Stanley Frank Platek testified to working for the FDA for the past 21 years. He currently works in the trace evidence section.

"Anything left behind, my specialty is small particle analysis," said the witness.

The witness testified to doing puncture analysis on Ms. Few and Ms. Rhone's bloodlines.

Saenz's attorney, Ryan Deaton questioned the witness about his findings on the puncture spots of Ms. Rhone's bloodline.

"There were 2 into the saline line?" asked Deaton.

"That's correct," said the witness.

With no further questions from either council, the witness was dismissed from the stand.

The state called upon a biomed for Lufkin Dialysis, Corey Michael Smith, as the next witness.

He testified to working at the DaVita clinic during the time of the incidents listed on the indictment. He was a re-use technician at the time. He told jurors when the clinic agreed to stop re-using dialyzers.

"April 2008," said the witness. "The 16th of April."

The prosecution asked the witness if he helped bag dialyzers and bloodlines after the adverse occurrences of several patients. Smith testified that he did.

"I actually walked by and offered my assistance," said Smith.

Smith recalled having to take over CPR to Thelma Metcalf because he said Saenz's efforts weren't working effectively.

"There was no rise and fall to the chest. And I said to her, you got to open the airway. And there was no response from her. She didn't even acknowledge what I said," said Smith.

In an effort to save Metcalf's live, Smith said he took over.

Deaton argued that testimony, citing that Smith never told this story to police in the four years these incidents have been under investigation. Deaton pointed out that Smith still works for DaVita, as he has for the past 8 years but never mentioned this story. Furthermore, Deaton questioned the witness about a job title change, asking if it was the result of a demotion. Smith replied that was not the case.

Looking at previous witness statement, Deaton pointed out Smith saying there were breaks in the chlorine lines at the clinic

"Prior to April of 2008, do you remember a chlorine break through?" said Deaton.

The witness testified a chlorine break had been documented at the clinic before. He also agreed that the clinic was under close watch during 2008.

Deaton then turned his questioning to questions about the clinic's water testing. He pointed out on April 2nd, 2008, the water was not retested during the second shift of the day. On April 5th, 2008 the employee start time for the day was changed to an earlier time with no initials signing off on the change.

Deaton argued that the clinic did not test their water every 4 hours, like they're required. In March there were 26 days where the clinic did not test the water every four hours. In February, there were 24 days where the clinic did not follow proper water testing protocol.

Looking through records, Deaton also said the clinic did not appear to have a date on all medical records. He pointed out the strips used to test the water were not the proper type for testing the amount of water used.

During cross examination, the prosecution pointed out that Deaton did not show the witness the full evidence of tanks being exchanged at the clinic. Prosecution said the defense made it look like it was just a delivery when it was in fact an exchange of water tanks.

"The point is ya'll were just sloppy even in the month where ya'll were supposedly being watched," said Deaton.

"Ya'll were sloppy even in the month of April 2008?" said Deaton.

"No," said Smith.

Prosecution then called a chemical and research development manager, Charles Clifford Johnson, to the stand.

Johnson testified that he was subpoenaed by the prosecutor's office to discuss the chemistry his company uses.

After briefly explaining his practice and research to both councils, the witness was dismissed.

The prosecution called Andy Elliot as the next witness. Elliot testified to working as a Biomed technician for a Cleveland DaVita Dialysis Clinic. He stated he's worked in dialysis for 12 years, starting his first job as a re-use technician splitting his time at DaVitas in Lufkin and Livingston.

The prosecution asked the witness if he ever heard about test strips showing positive results after testing the water's bleach content after the medical devices were disinfected.

Elliot testified that he did not hear of such a thing.

The defense and prosecution went back and forth with the witness, questioning whether or not he saw sharps containers being sequestered.

When the witness replied that he did not remember, Deaton seemed puzzled.

"So what did you do that day?" said Deaton.

The witness replied that he maintained the machines and tested the water.

Deaton then asked the witness about the rules on testing the water at the clinic.

"I believe back then the policy was every four hours or the beginning of each shift," said the witness.

Deaton asked Elliot if he ever collected bloodlines, to which Elliot replied once. However, he did not recall who the lines belonged to.

Later this afternon, the prosecution questioned Ted Kasparek, Senior Director of Technical Operations for DaVita, about the water cleaning processes of the clinic.

Wednesday marked the eighth day of the former Lufkin dialysis nurse's capital murder trial.

Kimberly Clark Saenz of Pollok is charged with capital murder and five counts of aggravated assault. She is accused of injecting bleach into the bloodstream of kidney dialysis patients at the DaVita Lufkin Dialysis Center.

Saenz was arrested in 2008, following a long investigation into 5 deaths that happened at the dialysis center in Lufkin in April 2008.

Five other patients were also seriously injured.

Investigators believe Saenz injected bleach into at least 10 patients' bloodstream while they were receiving dialysis.

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