Williams to ask for extension

Richard Williams’ attorneys want his
Oct. 27 trial date
to be pushed back.
Wednesday, August 6, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 7:56 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Defense attorneys for Richard Williams, the former nurse at Truman Veterans Hospital charged in connection with the 1992 deaths of 10 patients, plan to ask for his Oct. 27 trial date to be pushed back in a hearing on Friday.

Donald Catlett, one of Williams’ attorneys, said Tuesday that the defense was asking for additional medical records in the case as well as more time to review the evidence.

Catlett said with 10 victims, it’s comparable to trying 10 separate cases.

“We’re going to have to try each case step by step,” Catlett said.

Boone County Prosecuting Attorney Kevin Crane said he is expecting a “lengthy” trial. He has filed a list of 121 potential witnesses for the state, including a number of doctors, scientists and family members of victims.

Crane said it is too early to tell whether all witnesses will be called to testify, but that it is important to list all potential witnesses so that they can be called to testify in the trial.

“It’s more of a preventative measure,” Crane said.

Crane said that to his knowledge, the Williams case has the most counts of murder in the first degree that the state of Missouri has ever seen. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Williams.

Williams is suspected of injecting patients at Truman with the muscle relaxant succinylcholine. He was charged last year with 10 counts of first-degree murder after investigators said they found evidence of succinylcholine in the remains of some of Williams’ former patients.

Mark Chamberlain, a clinical assistant professor and drug information specialist at the University of Maryland’s School of Pharmacy, said succinylcholine induces the paralysis of muscles, including the diaphragm, resulting in the patients’ inability to breathe. It begins to work in as little as 30 to 60 seconds after injection into the bloodstream, Chamberlain said.

Succinylcholine is hard to detect, however.

“Most of it is metabolized, or changed into another substance, by enzymes in the bloodstream, so you wouldn’t expect to find much, if any, of the original compound,” Chamberlain said. “Furthermore, in this group of patients, respiratory failure would not be an unexpected phenomena. You wouldn’t go looking for succinylcholine in the first place.”

Neither Crane nor Catlett are sure whether Williams’ trial will begin on Oct. 27, as scheduled.

“That’s for the judge to decide,” Catlett said.

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