Former Tennessee nurse receives 3-year probation after she was found guilty of erroneously injecting an elderly patient with a drug that caused her death

  • A former Tennessee nurse received a three-year supervised probation after a jury found her guilty of a fatal medical mistake.

  • RaDonda Vaught's trial earlier this year captured the attention of nurses nationwide.

  • The criminalization of medical mistakes would deter nurses from coming forward and erode patient care, they said.

Former Tennessee nurse RaDonda Vaught received a three-year supervised probation after a jury found her guilty of a fatal medical mistake.

The jury in March said Vaught was guilty of criminally negligent homicide and abuse of an impaired adult after a 2017 incident in which she injected an elderly patient with a drug that led to her death. Vaught injected 75-year-old Charlene Murphey in December 2017 with vecuronium instead of a sedative called Versed, prosecutors said, according to an account of the trial from The Tennessean.

Murphey, who was admitted into the Vanderbilt University Medical Center for a brain bleed, died after the injection, which likely stopped her breathing, prosecutors argued.

"This wasn't an accident or mistake as it's been claimed. There were multiple chances for RaDonda Vaught to just pay attention," Assistant District Attorney Chad Jackson said during closing arguments.

The jury's verdict stunned nurses nationwide, who during her trial spoke out against the potential criminalization of Vaught's error. The American Nurses Association condemned it, saying in a statement that the decision set a "dangerous precedent" in which "the honest reporting of mistakes" gets criminalized.

Hahnah Williams, a nurse-turned attorney who now represents healthcare practitioners, previously told Insider that the decision could deter nurses from coming forward when they make a mistake, which would ultimately lead to the erosion of patient care.

Nurses from the American Nurses Association said they feared Vaught would go to jail for the mistake.

"We are grateful to the judge for demonstrating leniency in the sentencing of Nurse Vaught," reads a joint statement from the American Nurses Association and the Tennessee Nurses Association. "Unfortunately, medical errors can and do happen, even among skilled, well-meaning, and vigilant nurses and health care professionals."

Leading up to Vaught's sentencing, thousands of nurses rallied in support, according to Williams.

Five rallygoers in blue nurses' scrubs at a protest.
From left: Ashley Hughes (organizer), Justin Riney (organizer), Najja Williams (organizer), Hahnah Williams, Esq, RN, and Veronica Marshall (founder) at the National Nurses March on May 12.Courtesy of Hahnah Williams

Williams, who was present at the National Nurses March, told Insider that rallygoers included nurses, certified nursing assistants, civilians, and family and friends.

"The crowd was unified, energetic, hopeful, and committed to advocating for positive changes to the nursing profession," Williams said, adding that one of the rally goals was to put pressure on Congress to pass legislation that would address "unsafe nurse to patient ratios" and "workplace violence against healthcare professionals."

Vaught's sentencing came as a relief to healthcare workers. But it doesn't represent a victory, Williams said.

"Even though Ms. Vaught's supporters are pleased that she will serve her sentence in probation, there are no 'wins' in this case because Ms. Charlene Murphy died tragically, and her family continues to grieve and suffer from her death," Williams said in an email to Insider.

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