Less than three weeks before the start of jury selection for suspended Dr. William Husel's murder trial, Franklin County prosecutors appear poised to dismiss some of the 25 murder counts against the former Mount Carmel intensive-care physician.
County Common Pleas Judge Michael J. Holbrook said he emailed prosecutors and defense attorneys on Friday morning about the the need for a hearing if the prosecution intended to dismiss some counts before Husel's trial scheduled next month. His email was sent in response to media inquiries about whether prosecutors intended to dismiss about half the charges in an effort to focus on the deaths for which the evidence is strongest.
"I informed the parties that it was my opinion that if the prosecution plans to do that, a hearing would be necessary under Marsy's Law (a victims-rights amendment approved by Ohio voters in 2017) to let family members of victims be heard," Holbrook said.
Holbrook said one of the prosecutors in the case replied to the email, telling him that such a hearing will be necessary.
"We are in the process of scheduling a hearing for the last week of (January)," Holbrook said. "I want to do it before we bring any jurors in."
The court has summoned potential jurors, in groups of 325, to appear either Feb. 2, 3 or 4, for questioning about their knowledge of the case and whether they would be available for what could be a two-month trial.
The trial itself is scheduled to begin on Valentine's Day, Feb. 14.
Husel, 46, is accused of intentionally killing 25 intensive-care patients at two Mount Carmel Health hospitals from February 2015 through November 2018 by prescribing each of them at least 500 micrograms of fentanyl, a powerful opioid.
His defense team contends that he was providing comfort care to terminally ill patients in their final hours and was not attempting to shorten their lives.
First Assistant Prosecutor Janet Grubb, who is part of the prosecution team on the case, declined to comment on any plans to dismiss charges against Husel when contacted by The Dispatch.
"We will address any and all matters in court and on the record," she said.
County Prosecutor Gary Tyack told The Dispatch in January 2021, shortly after taking office, that he favored dismissing some of the counts against Husel and proceeding "with a small number of cases."
If Husel is convicted, Tyack told the newspaper, he "can only serve so many life terms... We should not spend hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars in county money to incarcerate a man for more lifetimes than he has."
Each of the murder counts filed against Husel carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole for at least 15 years.
There had been no movement by the prosecutor's office to dismiss counts since Tyack made his comments, in part because Husel's lawyers filed a motion asking the judge to dismiss the entire case. The defense argued that Tyack's predecessor, Ron O'Brien, had committed prosecutorial misconduct by misleading a grand jury to obtaining the indictment.
Holbrook rejected the defense motion on Dec. 3.
O'Brien, a Republican who was the longest-serving county prosecutor, was involved in Husel's prosecution until he was defeated in the November 2020 election by Tyack, a Democrat and former Franklin County appeals court judge.
This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Prosecutors look to reduce murder counts before former doctor's trial