Arrest Is Made in Spate of Hospital Deaths in 2002

Jennifer Anne Hall's lawyer says she is being wrongly accused—again
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 20, 2022 10:57 AM CDT
Arrest Is Made in Spate of Hospital Deaths in 2002
In this self portrait, Aprille Franco holds a photo of her grandmother, Fern Franco, when Fern Franco was young.   (Aprille Franco via AP)

(Newser) – In the five months that Jennifer Anne Hall was a respiratory therapist at Hedrick Medical Center in 2002, the rural Missouri hospital experienced 18 "code blue" incidents—an alarming increase in sudden cardiac arrest events for a hospital that historically averaged one of them a year, according to a police investigator. Nine of those patients died. Twenty years later, Hall was charged this month with first-degree murder in one of the deaths: that of 75-year-old Fern Franco, reports the AP. Livingston County Prosecuting Attorney Adam Warren, who was elected prosecutor in 2010, opened the investigation in 2012, saying he didn’t believe that a "thorough investigation has ever been completed" into the deaths.

Warren said Franco died of lethal doses of succinylcholine—a relaxant that paralyzes the respiratory muscles—and the pain reliever morphine. The prosecutor did not disclose a possible motive or say why the investigation took a decade. Hall was placed on administrative leave three days after Franco's death and the code blue incidents "returned to historical frequency,” a probable cause statement from Chillicothe Officer Brian Schmidt reads. Hall's attorney, Matt O’Connor, said she is innocent and that as a respiratory therapist, she didn’t have access to succinylcholine, morphine, or any other drugs.

Hall, 41, pleaded not guilty Thursday and is jailed without bond. O'Connor said he will seek bond so Hall can get chemotherapy treatment for leukemia. A hearing on that request was set for May 27. It’s unclear if Hall will face additional murder charges in the deaths at Hedrick, which involved people of varying ages and levels of health. While some were in their 80s, David Harper was just 37. He had been hospitalized with pneumonia, but the lawsuit said he was so much better that he was about to be discharged. He died on March 20, 2002. Similarly, 49-year-old Shirley Eller was a day away from going home after being treated for pneumonia when she collapsed and died on March 9, 2002.

Hall was fired months after being put on leave, but not because of the patient deaths. O'Connor said she was fired after hospital officials learned she had been convicted of an arson fire at another small Missouri hospital, Cass Regional Medical Center in Harrisonville, where she previously worked. She was free on appeal when she took the job in Chillicothe and later spent a year behind bars before being acquitted at a retrial. O’Connor called it unfathomable that Hall would again be singled out for a crime she didn’t commit. “To go through it once is terrible,” O’Connor said. “To go through it twice is a recurring nightmare.” (Read more cold cases stories.)

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