While photographers’ cameras flashed in his face, Richard Williams, free after about 14 months at the Boone County Jail, kissed the forehead of his 3-year-old son.
The reunion with his wife, Melissa Brown, and son, Caleb, in the lobby of the State Public Defender’s office Wednesday came just a little more than four hours after he’d been notified that 10 counts of first-degree murder against him had been dropped.
“Disbelief” was the word Williams chose to describe his reaction when he was told that he should pack his things and that he was leaving jail. His attorney Don Catlett had called the Boone County Jail at about 8:30 that morning, shortly after hearing from Boone County Prosecutor Kevin Crane that the charges would be dropped.
“At this time, the only thing I’ve been thinking about is seeing my family,” Williams said from the public defender’s office. “I just want to get on with my life.”
Williams was charged last year after investigators determined that the cause of death for 10 patients at the Truman Memorial Veterans Hospital, where Williams worked as a nurse in 1992, was injections of a potentially lethal chemical, succinylcholine. But new tests discredited the scientific evidence that suggested that succinylcholine was the cause of death in those patients.
It was the only evidence the state had against Williams, Catlett said. Now that prosecutors no longer have that evidence, Catlett said he doesn’t expect Williams will be returning to court and facing other charges.
“I think as far as I know now, it’s the end,” Williams said.
Catlett said he had been prepared to argue that many of the healthier patients under Williams’ care had been moved out of his ward, 4E, and put into a geriatric program that began around the time that Williams started working at the hospital. That left a higher percentage of severely ill patients under Williams’ care, which explained the spike in deaths during the time of his employment.
Acknowledging that he has lost weight in jail, Williams said the time he has spent behind bars has been “an experience I never want to repeat again.” The only benefit of his jail time was the opportunity to “deepen my relationship with God,” he said.
Williams, 37, was born in Fort Leonard Wood, but later moved to Houston, Mo., where he met Brown, who was attending Houston High School. At the time, Williams was working at Texas County Memorial Hospital as an emergency medical technician. The couple married on Valentine’s Day in 1988.
Williams worked as a nurse at Truman Medical Hospital in 1992, where there were more than 40 deaths during his shifts. After leaving the hospital,
Williams also worked in a nursing home in Ashland, where there was also a spike in the number of deaths.
He later left the nursing profession and moved to the St. Louis area. Before he was arrested, Williams worked as an accounting clerk at Panera Bread Co. in St. Louis.
At the time of his arrest, he and his wife lived on Hollow Creek Drive in St. Peters. The home has since been sold, but neighbors said Wednesday they weren’t sure when or where they moved.
On Wednesday, Williams said he would be returning to St. Peters, however. President of the Hollow Creek Neighborhood Association and real estate agent Mary Jean Otte said she spent some time with Williams and Brown, when they were discussing plans with her to sell their house at least two months before his arrest.
Neighbors described Williams as a quiet person who kept to himself, but Otte said she got to know the couple a little.
They’re nice, kept a clean house, and their son is “a doll,” Otte said.
When she learned that Williams had been released, Otte said she wished the best of luck to him.
“They might have ruined this guy’s whole life and nothing came of it,” she said. “I imagine that they would have to start all over.”
By 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, Williams was driving back to St. Peters, where he said he will begin to search for work and try to piece his life back together.
“I think the people who matter to me most, who know me, don’t believe the charges anyway,” Williams said.
The Associated Press and Missourian staff reports contributed to this story.