Veteran's Death Blamed on Morphine Overdose - | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

NC5 Investigates: Veterans Home

Veteran's Death Blamed on Morphine Overdose

Charles Compton with daughter-in-law Debbie Compton Charles Compton with daughter-in-law Debbie Compton
(Story created: 12/8/06)

There's an unusual twist to a story we've been following for several months now.

It involves the death of a patient from the Tennessee State Veterans Home in Murfreesboro -- a death the family blamed on neglect at the state-run nursing home. 

The autopsy results are back, and the findings are not what the family was expecting.

In fact, the autopsy concludes that, when death finally came, it was the result of something that happened after Charles Compton left the veterans home.

When Charles Compton was sent home from the Tennessee State Veterans Home in August, his daughter-in-law Debbie Compton was shocked at how emaciated he was.

The family believed he was seriously malnourished.

And when Debbie spoke with us shortly after her father-in-law's death, she blamed the nursing home staff. 

"They starved him to death," she told NewsChannel 5 consumer investigator Jennifer Kraus at the time.

Now, his death has been ruled a homicide.

But the medical examiner says what killed Charles Compton was a lethal overdose of morphine -- given to him in the hours just before he died.

"It can represent either being given in a large dose all at once or several doses within a few minutes of each other," says assistant medical examiner Adele Lewis.

Lewis tells Kraus that Charles Compton had four to five times the amount of morphine in his system than he should have.

"This is a level of morphine that would kill a healthy person," Lewis adds.

It was Debbie Compton who had given the morphine, provided by hospice workers to make her father-in-law's death more comfortable.

Compton's attorney, Lisa Circeo, says the veteran was someone that her client "loved dearly -- and she has stood by that man and took care of him."

She says there is another logical explanation for the high level of morphine -- that Compton was so close to death and his body had essentially started to shut down.

"You get to a point where you cannot process things such as medication," Circeo says. "You eventually quit urinating, producing saliva, sweat, and things accumulate in your body."

The Williamson County Sheriff's Department has now opened an investigation to sort it all out.

But the family believes ultimately, the nursing home was responsible for his death.

"He'd basically passed away before he left the door of the veterans home," Circeo says.

While Debbie Compton knows some people may be looking at her now suspiciously, it's important to point out that she's the one who had fought to get this autopsy done in the first place.

The family is so convinced it was the veterans home who killed Charles Compton, they are still pursing a wrongful death lawsuit against the facility.

And it's not just the Compton family who thinks there have been problems at the veterans home.

After our initial investigation this year, state health inspectors found numerous examples of neglect.

And just last week, the governor asked for an independent review of how the state is treating its veterans.

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