Calling the death of 75-year-old patient Charlene Murphey a “terrible, terrible mistake,” a Tennessee judge sentenced former nurse RaDonda Vaught, RN, to 3 years of supervised probation on Friday.
Before sentencing, a tearful Vaught, 38, asked for leniency and apologized for the first time to the Murphey family. “I’m sorry I haven’t said this sooner. I’m sorry for what you lost. Your mother, wife, grandmother did not deserve that…I’m sorry you have not heard from me before. I am never, ever forgetting my role in this.”
The sentencing also included statements from family members about the impact on them and Murphey’s husband. They said Murphey wouldn’t have wanted Vaught to serve prison time but her husband wanted the maximum sentence.
Friday’s testimony also centered on a perjury charge against Vaught in 2020 that stemmed from a gun permit she was denied because she failed to report she was under indictment for a felony or any crime that could result in prison time.
In reading her sentencing decision, Judge Jennifer Smith noted that Vaught, a former ICU nurse at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, “will never again be in the position to do this fatal error,” as she was stripped of her nursing license.
“[Vaught had] no sustained intent to violate the law, is highly amenable to correction, has no criminal record, is removed from the healthcare setting, and she will never practice nursing again,” said Smith. “This situation will never be repeated by Ms. Vaught.”
The judge also hoped that her decision would have wider implications. Smith said going forward, she hoped changes in medical policies, including how medications are stored, “will mitigate this from ever happening again.”
After issuing the sentence of 3 years supervised probation with diversion — meaning the conviction can be dismissed at a later date — Vaught openly wept in court.
Outside of the courtroom, nurses from around the country who gathered for the verdict cheered loudly.
Vaught was found guilty March 25 of two felonies, criminally negligent homicide, and gross neglect for making a fatal medication mistake that cost Murphey her life. Murphey was supposed to receive Versed (midazolam) to ease her anxiety, but was given the paralytic drug vecuronium, which prevented her from breathing. She had entered the hospital with a brain injury, according to news reports.
Vaught was fired from the hospital and last summer, the Tennessee Board of Nursing unanimously voted to revoke her license.
After several hours of testimony from witnesses and Vaught, summation by the attorneys, and a period of personal deliberation Friday, Smith pronounced the sentence. The defense had argued for probation and the prosecution suggested 3 to 6 years, but left the time in custody up to the judge.
Previous reports indicated that Vaught might face up to 8 years in prison for the error.
The trial included testimony from a few nurse witnesses who painted Vaughn as a caring, compassionate nurse who went above and beyond for her patients — and quickly admitted her responsibility in the medical error that led to Murphey’s death.
Vaught told the court Friday that “caring for the patient and the family is an integral part of my daily life. I care for people as if I was one [of them]. That day I let Charlene Murphey down. I let her family down. I let myself down.”
She said she lost more than her license and her career after the incident. “I will never be the same. When Ms. Murphey died a part of me died with her,” she said, sniffling and having to stop several times during her testimony to compose herself.
“I have replayed my mistakes over and over again…This has been the most horrifying experience of my life and at the same time the most humbling experience of my life.”
But Vaught also argued for leniency, “I will never be able to practice nursing again. I am not a threat to public safety.” She also expressed her concern about the effect of her case on healthcare workers and patients.
Outside the courthouse, supporters of Vaught wearing purple “Nurse Strong” T-shirts, among others, sat on the lawn while others advocated in favor of the RN and waited for the verdict to be announced.