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Ex-respiratory therapist in Missouri charged in second murder more than two decades after patient’s death

Jennifer Hall hoodie

Jennifer Anne Hall (Livingston County Sheriff’s Office)

A one-time respiratory therapist in Missouri already charged in a hospital patient’s death now faces another murder charge in the death of a second patient.

On Tuesday, prosecutors in Livingston County, Missouri, charged Jennifer Anne Hall, 42, with one count of first-degree murder in the 2002 death of David Wesley Harper, 37, court records reviewed by Law&Crime show.

Hall was awaiting trial on first-degree murder charges in the slaying of Fern Franco in May 2002. She was arrested last year wearing an “I Don’t F—— Care” hoodie.

According to an affidavit obtained by Law&Crime, Harper had bronchitis in March 2002 when he was admitted into the Hendrick Medical Center. Hall was employed as a respiratory therapist there from December 2001 until May 2002. Hall had previously been employed at Cass County Medical Center but was terminated after hospital supervisors discovered she had falsified medical records, authorities noted in the document.

Harper’s condition improved over two days, but his doctors asked him to stay an additional two nights to assess the efficacy of C-PAP and Bi-PAP devices. Hall’s job was to monitor and determine Harper’s tolerance level with the devices, the document states.

The first night using the C-PAP machine, Harper could not tolerate the machine’s mask, so the doctors had him spend an additional night assessing his tolerance with the Bi-PAP device, authorities say.

Throughout that evening, the medical records Hall kept, and the data from Harper’s machine allegedly showed contradictory information regarding when she was attending Harper.

Investigators wrote that Hall twice “failed to record her presence with Mr. Harper,” which “had the effect of distancing Hall from Mr. Harper’s murder in both time and location” while also producing “an alibi by omission” on Harper’s integrated medical records.

However, Hall recorded that she was present twice in the last 25 minutes of Harper’s life, “noting specifically that he did not have apnea,” per the affidavit.

When the resuscitation team found Harper, they told police he was “posturing with his hands turned inward on his chest,” which was “an indication of severe brain damage, indicating Harper’s body had been without oxygen for a substantial period of time.”

The affidavit states that after medical personnel attempted to resuscitate Harper, they found that Hall was carrying a vial of succinylcholine in her pocket — a drug she was not certified to give to patients.

Succinylcholine is a skeletal muscle relaxant that can cause death by inducing paralysis of the diaphragmatic muscles, leading to suffocation. It is also the drug that authorities say caused the death of Fern Franco at Hedrick Medical Center, which they based on the ruling of experts in medical serial killers.

Probable cause documents cited by NBC affiliate KSHB said there was an alarming rise in cardiac collapse incidents at Hedrick Medical Center during Hall’s brief employment over two decades ago. There were reportedly 18 such incidents, nine of them fatal.

“Because of Hall’s singular proximity to stricken patients, her access to pharmaceuticals which are deadly if misused, and her discovery and method of notifying staff of every patient’s cardiac emergency, nursing staff believed Hall was responsible for the patient deaths,” Chillicothe Police Officer Brian Schmidt wrote in the affidavit.

Hall has denied responsibility for the deaths at Hedrick Medical Center.

“Never,” she told The Kansas City Star in 2015. “No, never.”

“My name is just thrown out there, and it’s for horrifying reasons,” Hall said.

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.