April 6, 2007
By Hector Gutierrez
Rocky Mountain News Staff Writer
A longtime nurse was spared a prison sentence Thursday for causing the death of a World War II veteran when she turned off an oxygen monitor because the noise was bothering her.
Carol Elkins, 60, told investigators that she forgot to restart the machine monitoring the oxygen levels in the blood of William T. Leslie at the Denver Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
Leslie, 76, who died in July 2003, had been suffering from pneumonia.
U.S. District Judge Lewis T. Babcock told Elkins that as part of her plea agreement with federal prosecutors, she will never work as a nurse anywhere in the United States or at any military installation.
Elkins also must undergo eight months of home detention, during which she will be monitored by an electronic device.
She still owes nearly $6,000 in restitution to the victim's family for funeral expenses.
Babcock accepted Elkins' guilty plea to "involuntary manslaughter with a culpable mental state of criminal negligence," and a sentencing arrangement drawn up by federal prosecutors and Elkins' defense lawyers.
But Babcock's explanation and apologies to Leslie's family for reaching his final decision did not satisfy them.
Teresa Housley-Smith, the victim's stepdaughter, wanted a prison sentence for Elkins, who could have faced at least eight months behind bars. Housley-Smith and her husband, J.R. Smith, drove to Denver from Cheyenne for the sentencing to oppose the plea deal one last time.
"The judge turned his back on our stepdad just like Carol Elkins did," Housley-Smith, 51, said tearfully, alongside her husband shortly after the judge handed down the sentence. "Martha Stewart didn't kill anyone, but she was sent to prison."
Before Elkins was sentenced, Housley-Smith was allowed to address the court. At one point, she briefly turned to Elkins, who was seated between her lawyers, Kenneth F. Eichner and Jonathan M. Abramson, and asked what her stepfather could have done to deserve negligent treatment.
"Losing a license with her age, she's ready for retirement, anyway," Housley-Smith said. "Being confined to her house, that's a vacation. . . . To let things go with probation, house arrest or whatever is just not right."
Elkins told investigators that she was changing the intravenous tubing for Leslie while the oxygen saturation monitor "kept going off next to my head," according to her statement, which was read in court by Judge Babcock. At that point, she decided to turn off the monitor.
"I planned to turn it back on as soon as I was finished, but I forgot," Elkins said in the statement.
Elkins admitted that she did not report her negligence until later.
"I didn't tell anybody because I was too ashamed," she said.
On Dec. 7, 2005, Elkins was indicted by a federal grand jury and charged with one count of involuntary manslaughter with a mental state of criminal reckless conduct.
Before she was sentenced, Elkins expressed remorse to Leslie's family.
"I can't begin to tell you how sorry I am that this happened," she said. "You say I failed as a nurse, and that's true. I was so proud to be a nurse. It was such an honor to take care of God's people, and I can't do it anymore."