Release shocks victims’ families

Thursday, August 7, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:54 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 5, 2008

Levita Neugebauer, of Houston, Mo., said she was “dumbfounded” by the news of Richard Williams’ release. Neugebauer’s brother, Odas Lesley, was one of the 10 people prosecutors had been saying Williams had killed.

Her brother was admitted to Truman Veterans Hospital on June 27, 1992, with a diagnosis of pulmonary disease and hemoptysis. He died the next month.

“I imagine there are going to be a lot of people complaining,” Neugebauer said.

After Williams was charged in June 2002 with first-degree murder in connection with the deaths of 10 patients at Truman, families of loved ones who were named as victims expressed relief that the decade-old case seemed to be coming to a conclusion.

But Wednesday, families were confused and disappointed when Boone County Prosecuting Attorney Kevin Crane asked a judge to dismiss all charges against Williams.

Elzie Havrum’s family, which won a wrongful death lawsuit against the hospital in federal court in 1998, was in a state of disbelief.

“I just couldn’t believe it,” said Helen Havrum, Elzie’s widow. Elzie Havrum, a decorated World War II veteran, was admitted to Truman for weakness and shortness of breath on June 14, 1992. He died a day later.

Elzie’s sons Gary and David Havrum talked about the case Wednesday afternoon.

Gary Havrum said Williams’ arrest had brought a certain level of closure to the family. That sense of relief was shaken on Wednesday.

“(We are) very shocked and disappointed that he is going to be out there,” he said. “It was a pretty clear-cut case, it seemed.”

David Havrum said shock was his first reaction to the dropped charges, but anger and helplessness followed.

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