By JUAN A. LOZANO, Associated Press
LUFKIN, Texas (AP) — Five kidney dialysis patients who authorities allege were killed when a former Texas nurse injected them with bleach trusted the woman with their care, but instead had their lives abruptly cut short by her, a prosecutor told jurors during closing arguments Thursday.
Meanwhile, Kimberly Clark Saenz's defense attorney said she's innocent and being targeted by the owner of the clinic where she worked for faulty procedures at the facility.
Jurors began deliberating Saenz's fate after listening to more than three hours of closing arguments. They stopped after more than five hours and were to resume Friday.
Angelina County District Attorney Clyde Herrington told jurors the five victims had believed Saenz would take care of them.
"And they had bleach injected into their bodies ... The defendant did that to these people," he said.
If convicted of capital murder, Saenz could face the death penalty. Her trial, in its fourth week, began March 5.
Saenz, 38, is charged with one capital murder count that accuses her of killing as many as five patients in April 2008. She's also charged with five counts of aggravated assault for injuries to five other patients. On the capital murder count, jurors could find her guilty of the lesser charges of murder or aggravated assault.
She didn't take the stand in her own defense. But in a recording played at trial, Saenz could be heard testifying before a grand jury that she felt "railroaded" by the clinic and "would never inject bleach into a patient."
Herrington said authorities were alerted in part to what Saenz did by two patients at the clinic in Lufkin, a city about 125 miles northeast of Houston. The patients told jurors earlier in the trial they had seen Saenz inject bleach into the IV lines of two other patients.
The two were terrified by what they saw and became afraid for their own lives, the prosecutor said.
"This is a case in which the defendant was caught in the act. Not by the police, not by employees but by two patients," Herrington said.
But Ryan Deaton, Saenz's attorney, told jurors the prosecution's case is based on speculation. He suggested the clinic's owner, Denver-based health care giant DaVita Inc., blamed Saenz to cover up problems at the facility that affected patient health, including improper water purification.
The lawyer also suggested clinic officials have fabricated evidence against Saenz.
"All we have here today is Ms. Saenz being a scapegoat for the sins of a Fortune 500 company," Deaton said.
Herrington described Deaton's claims that Saenz was being set up by her employer as "absolutely ridiculous."
Deaton said Saenz, a married mother of two who was born and raised in Lufkin, had no motive to harm any patient. But Herrington described her as a depressed and disgruntled employee who complained about specific patients, including some of those who died or were injured.
Deaton questioned the reliability of the two patients who allegedly saw Saenz inject two other patients with bleach, saying they have bad eyesight.
Herrington said investigators testified they found Internet searches on Saenz's computer about bleach poisoning in blood and whether bleach could be detected in dialysis lines. He said that showed she wanted "to know if she could be caught."
Deaton said Saenz was just trying to figure out what was happening to her patients.
Bleach is commonly used to disinfect plastic lines and other dialysis equipment at the clinic. Saenz's attorneys said she was spotted measuring bleach into a syringe because she wanted to put the right amount into cleaning water.
Former DaVita employees who testified for prosecutors told jurors that they never used syringes instead of measuring cups to ensure the proper amounts of bleach were being used in cleaning solutions. Dialysis patients spend up to three days a week tethered for hours to a machine that filters their blood because their kidneys can't do so.
Saenz was charged a year after the clinic was closed for about two months in the wake of a rash of illnesses and deaths in April 2008. Emergency crews had been called to the clinic as many as 30 times that April and made at least 19 runs. Seven of the calls were for cardiac problems.