DA fights to keep baby-killing nurse behind bars
(CNN) — It’s been called the Death Shift: 3 to 11 p.m. inside a pediatric intensive care unit at a Texas hospital. Babies who were in stable condition stopped breathing. Hearts that were beating without a problem came to a halt.
The nurse on duty at Bexar County Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas: Genene Jones. She was a licensed vocational nurse at the hospital from 1978 to 1982. A former co-worker told HLN that Jones would routinely play “cat and mouse” with newborns, taking them to the edge of death and sometimes bringing them back.
Jones left Bexar County in March 1982 to work at a private practice in Kerrville, Texas. In 1984, she was convicted of murdering a baby by injecting her with powerful drugs. Later that year, she was convicted of injuring another baby during her time at Bexar County.
Prosecutors suspected Jones of killing 46 other babies, but Sam Millsap, the Kerr County district attorney at the time of Jones’ trials, said he faced many obstacles when it came to pressing additional charges.
Raymond Fuchs, the Bexar County assistant district attorney, told the New York Times in 1984 that 9,000 pounds of documents had been shredded. The spokesman for the hospital at the time, Jeffry Duffield, told the Times that the shredding had nothing to do with the investigation and was part of normal protocol.
“Most murder investigations begin with a clearly defined victim: the body on the floor with a bullet wound in the chest. And in this one, we started with nothing more than a tip,” Millsap told HLN. “Establishing guilt beyond a reasonable doubt is enormously difficult.”
Jones was given sentences of 99 and 60 years in prison for the respective crimes. At the time of her trial, Millsap was quoted in the Washington Post as saying, “There will be no additional indictments of Genene Jones. No useful purpose will be served. I think (she) will spend the rest of her life in jail.”
But because of a legal loophole, Jones is set to go free in less than five years. She’s earned time off for good behavior, and because of that, coupled with inmate reduction policies, she’s set to be released in 2018. That sparked the recent increase in interest and activity in the case.
Now, nearly 30 years after Jones’ original conviction, Bexar County District Attorney Susan D. Reed is pulling out dusty boxes with case information and reviewing the evidence. Reed is also in touch with mothers who suspect Jones in their babies’ deaths.
Reed calls Jones’ impending release “outrageous.”
“She was implicated in the deaths of 47 little babies,” Reed told HLN’s Kyra Phillips. “We cannot have someone like that free — period. She should never walk out of prison. … Anybody who shows so little compassion for children should not receive compassion under the parole system.”
‘I have blood on my hands’
Joyce Riley worked alongside Jones. While auditing medical records at Bexar County Medical Center in 1979, she says, she found a disturbing trend of babies dying in the pediatric ICU.
“She put them through such misery,” she told HLN. “One child was bleeding in 500 parts of his body.”
Riley had to find out what was going on, so she zeroed in on the times of death and found they all had one thing in common: the 3 to 11 p.m. shift. She kept investigating and soon discovered one nurse’s name kept appearing on the records nearly every time a baby died. Still, she could do nothing to stop Jones.
“I went to my boss, and I said, ‘There’s a problem up there,’ ” she said. ” ‘And I can show you that these babies died on 3-11 only and that they all died with Genene Jones.’ And I was told, ‘I’m sorry, Joyce, if you say that again, you’ll be fired, and you’ll be sued for slander, and you’ll never work again.’ ”
Riley was reassigned, Jones kept working, and Riley says babies kept dying.
“Imagine that child laying there not knowing that this woman was playing with him like a cat plays with a mouse … making them go through these horrendous, painful, painful situations,” Riley said.
Riley was convinced these babies’ deaths were not due to natural causes. “She would find something and someway, either heparin or Dilantin or succinylcholine — that she would crash that baby … and then knowing how she crashed that baby, she could help revive the baby and be the hero! And she loved that!”
Riley says the pattern continued for several years. “I know I have blood on my hands. I know that. And I admit that,” she said. “I’ve tried to do everything I can do to try and undo that scenario. And I will do that until the day that I die.”
Riley wasn’t the only hospital staff worker to speak up. Cheri Pendergraft was also concerned that Jones was drugging babies, and she also went to administrators.
“The death rate was higher than it had been in previous months and previous years as I went back. So we started to question why is that happening, and I also noticed that it tended to concentrate more on the 3-11 shift, which was the shift that Genene was working mostly,” Pendergraft told HLN.
Riley’s supervisor is now deceased, and no further confirmation could be obtained on the issue.
Jones left Bexar County and landed a new job at a clinic in Kerrville in 1982. That’s where 15-month-old Chelsea McClellan came in for a routine shot and never made it home.
‘Losing a child is something you never get over. You just learn to cope’
In 1982, Petti McClellan-Wiese took her daughter to a pediatric clinic in Kerrville, and doctors said her daughter Chelsea needed a routine shot. But while McClellan-Wiese held Chelsea in her arms, the clinic’s nurse, Jones, injected something else.
“She gave her her first shot in her left thigh, and she immediately started gasping for air,” McClellan-Wiese told HLN in August. Then Jones gave her another shot. “She immediately went limp and quit breathing.”
Doctors resuscitated baby Chelsea, rushing her from the clinic to a nearby hospital. But Jones wasn’t finished. Somehow, amidst all the chaos to save Chelsea, Jones slipped into the ambulance and gave the little girl a third and final injection. Chelsea’s heart just stopped.
“After it happened, I kept saying, ‘They did something. They did something.’ But I was the grieving mother,” McClellan-Wiese said.
But the “grieving mother’s” gut was right. Jones had injected her daughter with a powerful muscle relaxer, enough to sedate six full grown men.
“Losing a child is something you never get over. You just learn to cope,” McClellan-Wiese said.
Prosecutors would later argue that Jones killed as many as 47 babies, but they could convict her only of the Chelsea McClellan murder and the attempted murder of another child.
“Chelsea should have never, ever died,” Riley said. “I think Chelsea is the angel that finally stopped it.”
Jones was convicted of one death, but for some of the families who lost babies on Jones’ watch, this was not justice.
‘Those babies need justice, too’
Producers on HLN’s Raising America spent months tracking down key players in the murder investigation. However, the hospital has changed names and leadership multiple times in the past 30 years. And the person who was dean of the hospital at the time is now dead. The former director of nursing is dead. The head pediatric nurse, Jones’ direct boss, is dead.
“Those babies need justice, too,” McClellan-Wiese said. “What happened to them wasn’t right, and it wasn’t different than what happened to Chelsea.”
Three decades later, investigators have no documents to review and few people to interview. That’s not stopping Reed, however, from looking at the possibility of prosecuting Jones. She is talking to the original investigator in the case and the trial attorney. She is also looking into any admissions Jones may have made in prison.
“I can’t promise that we can re-create this,” she said. “There are going to be issues with missing witnesses and whether the documents are there that we need, but we’re going to look at this with a view to seeing what it is we can do. And if we can do it, we’ll do it.”
Mireena Rodriquez is another mother who’s coming forward. She is willing to exhume the body of her child to confirm her suspicions behind his cause of death.
“I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that lady murdered my child,” she told HLN. “I was 15 years old at the time, but I was a mommy, and I knew that something wasn’t right. You take your child in for an immunization to a clinic, and he has a code blue going on after an injection of whatever was supposed to help. Right at that moment I did not know it was her, but I knew something wasn’t right.”
‘I didn’t do anything’
Carole Young Prison Hospital officials in Dickenson, Texas, denied HLN’s request for an interview with Jones due to her poor health.
Jones has continued to maintain her innocence. Shortly after her 1984 conviction, she said, “If I have to spend 99 years in solitary, I could live with myself, because I didn’t do anything.”
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