NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — RaDonda Vaught, a former Vanderbilt University Medical Center nurse, learned Friday she will not spend any time in prison after a deadly 2017 medical mistake.
Vaught was facing up to four years in prison, but ultimately a Davidson County judge determined she was a good candidate for supervised probation, along with judicial diversion. Under that Tennessee law, as long as Vaught follows the rules of her probation, one day, her conviction could be dismissed.
In March, Vaught was found guilty of criminally negligent homicide and gross neglect of an impaired adult after she administered the wrong medication to her patient Charlene Murphey.
This case captured national attention from the health care community. Nurses and health care professionals across the country have expressed outrage over this case, saying a conviction and possible jail time for a mistake made on the job is unfair. Many
Vaught will never return to nursing. Through her attorney, Vaught said she and her husband plan to run their own farm in Sumner County.
At the start of Friday's sentencing hearing, Judge Jennifer Smith said her office received hundreds of correspondence such as calls, voicemails and letters in this case, all of which will be added to the court file as public record.
The state called Murphey's son Michael Murphey to testify. He told the court he does not believe his mother could want Vaught to serve any prison time.
Michael's father, Charlene's widower, would disagree. Michael testified that his father would want Vaught to serve the maximum sentence.
Rhonda Murphey, Charlene's daughter, spoke next. She described the void left by her mother's death.
"It just... the hurt that everyone has gone through," Rhonda said.
The state's third witness was Chandra Murphey, Charlene's daughter-in-law. During her emotional testimony, Chandra said Vaught has never said she's sorry directly to the Murphey family.
TBI Special Agent Ramona Smith then took the stand. She testified that she thought Vaught was forthright, but not remorseful during her interview with the TBI after Murphey's death. Smith said she left that Vaught thought she should be rewarded for her honesty.
Smith also testified about Vaught's perjury charge in Sumner County. Vaught is accused of lying in a background check when trying to buy a firearm. Smith said when the gun store challenged Vaught on her charges that appeared on a background check, Vaught allegedly told the gun store owner, "I have this court thing in Davidson County."
Smith was the state's final witness on Friday morning. The defense then called its first witness: Elizabeth Kessinger, a nurse at VUMC for almost 14 years.
Kessinger was Vaught's preceptor, she helped train Vaught in Vanderbilt's ICU. Kessinger testified that Vaught was motivated, very attentive with patients and spent quality time with them outside of medical care.
She described Vaught as generous, carrying and resilient. "If one of us were sick, she would be our choice, [of nurse]" Kessinger said.
Kessinger also testified that she believes Vaught is still upset by Murphey's death.
"For a significant period of time, it broke her. Her heart is still broken in many ways," Kessinger said. "She'll never get over it, and she knows the family has suffered a terrible loss. She knows what led to that loss."
The defense's second witness was Kelly Kelley, a longtime friend of Vaught. Kelley emotionally described Vaught as the "sweetest soul." She told the court Vaught has cried a lot over this case.
Next, Rebecca Ray was called to the stand. Ray lives in Vaught's community of Bethpage. She said they met while on a walk and have become good friends while bonding over them both working in nursing.
"She's the kind of nurse I would want her to take care of me, I would want her to take care of my family," Ray said.
She also testified that she believes Vaught would be an excellent candidate for probation.
Kaitlyn Stokes, a nurse practitioner in Bowling Green, Kentucky, was the next called to testify. She went to nursing school with Vaught, and the two also worked together at VUMC.
"RaDonda is a better nurse than I'll ever be," Stokes said. "I've had many medication errors, one of which that was large... I don't know of a nurse that hasn't made a medication error."
Vaught was the final witness. She spoke directly to the Murphey family, saying she is sorry for what she did and she is sorry the family hasn't heard that from her yet.
"I will never, ever forget my role in this. I don't know what else to say that will make anything different," she said.
Vaught continued her statement to the court, she detailed how her life is forever impacted by Murphey's death.
"Anytime I see a VUMC logo around town, I think about Charlene Murphey," she said. "I let my patient down, I let myself down."
Vaught explained to Judge Smith how she's been honest and transparent from the beginning, starting with alerting her team to her mistake the moment it happened.
"I will never be the same person. When Ms. Murphey died, a part of me died with her," she said. "I have replayed my mistakes over and over again. I have certainly fallen from grace, I have experienced anxiety, depression, remorse, sleepless nights."
Following her statement, the defense ended its proof in this sentencing hearing.
The state then asked to apply an enhancement factor to Vaught's sentencing, arguing she violated the public trust in this case. The state also asked Judge Smith to consider Vaught's actions, in addition to her lack of a criminal history when she hands down her sentence.
Assistant District Attorney Brittani Flatt told the court Vaught would be a good candidate for probation, but she reiterated that Judge Smith should consider Vaught's actions.
In his sentencing recommendation, Defense Attorney Peter Strainse reminded Judge Smith of all the character reference letters she has received about Vaught. He asked for judicial diversion, but that decision remains with Judge Smith.
Next, Assistant District Attorney Chad Johnson argued that Vaught is "enjoying the media attention," but she refused to testify in her trial. Specifically, he mentioned Vaught's interview with NewsChannel 5 where she expressed her frustration with the district attorney's office. Judge Smith pushed back on his arguments, saying it was an emotional week and an emotional trial.
During her trial, prosecutors outlined 17 mistakes Vaught made while caring for a patient. They said she deviated far from the standard of care, resulting in a homicide charge. Defense attorneys argued what happened was a horrible mistake, but not a criminal one. Murphey was supposed to be given Versed to ease her anxiety before a PET scan. Instead, she was given the paralytic drug vecuronium, which caused her to be unable to breathe.
Following Murphey's death, Vaught was fired from VUMC and her nursing license was revoked.
Given the nature of the charges, Vaught will be labeled a convicted felon for the rest of her life. Vaught has not yet said whether she will appeal her conviction. In an interview with NewsChannel 5, Vaught said she worries about the tragic impact this case could have on the health care industry.
Watch her full interview in the video player below. Warning - graphic language can be heard.