LUFKIN, Texas - A former Texas nurse accused of killing five of her patients and injuring five others by injecting bleach into their kidney dialysis tubing was found guilty of capital murder Friday.
Kimberly Clark Saenz, 38, was fired in April 2008 after a rash of illnesses and deaths at a Lufkin dialysis clinic run by Denver-based health care giant DaVita Inc. She was charged a year later.
Her trial began March 5. Defense lawyers argued that Saenz was being targeted by the clinic's owner for faulty procedures at the facility, including improper water purification. They also suggested that officials at the clinic, about 125 miles northeast of Houston, fabricated evidence against Saenz. Prosecutors described claims Saenz was being set up by her employer as "absolutely ridiculous."
The mother of two now faces life in prison or a death sentence as the case moved to the punishment phase. Prosecutors had said they would seek the death penalty if Saenz was convicted.
Prosecutors had described Saenz as a depressed and disgruntled employee who complained about specific patients, including some of those who died or were injured. Her attorneys said she had no motive to kill any patients.
Two patients who were at the clinic on April 28, 2008, testified that they saw Saenz use syringes to draw bleach from a cleaning bucket and then inject it into the IV lines of two patients who subsequently died.
The licensed vocational nurse, on the job about eight months, was dismissed the following day and the clinic was shut down by DaVita and state health inspectors. It reopened about two months later.
Defense attorney Ryan Deaton argued in his questioning during the nearly four-week-long trial that Saenz and others used syringes rather than measuring cups for bleach to ensure precise amounts were being used for proper mixing of cleaning solutions.
Bleach is commonly used to disinfect plastic lines and other dialysis equipment at the clinic. Saenz's attorneys said she was spotted measuring bleach into a syringe because she wanted to put the right amount into cleaning water.
Former DaVita employees who testified for prosecutors told jurors that they never used syringes instead of measuring cups to ensure the proper amounts of bleach were being used in cleaning solutions. Dialysis patients spend up to three days a week tethered for hours to a machine that filters their blood because their kidneys can't do so.
Saenz was charged with one capital murder count accusing her of killing as many as five patients, and with five counts of aggravated assault for the injuries to the five other patients.
On the capital murder count, jurors could have found her guilty of the lesser charges of murder or aggravated assault.
Saenz didn't take the stand in her own defense. But in a recording played at trial, she could be heard testifying before a grand jury that she felt "railroaded" by the clinic and "would never inject bleach into a patient."
Investigators testified that they found Internet searches on Saenz's computer about bleach poisoning in blood and whether bleach could be detected in dialysis lines.
Saenz told the grand jury she had been concerned about the patients' deaths and looked up bleach poisoning references to see "if this was happening, what would be the side effects."
DaVita turned over more than 10,000 pages of records in the case. Through 2011, the company operated or provided services to 1,809 dialysis facilities in the U.S., serving some 142,000 patients and employing more than 41,000 people.