Nurse appeals homicide verdict
Nurse appeals homicide verdict BY BRETT HAMBRIGHT, Staff Writer
Joy O'Shea Woomer said Friday that she was limited in presenting testimony that could have vindicated her when she stood trial for criminal homicide in 2010.
A Lancaster County jury convicted Woomer, a private-duty nurse, of third-degree murder for administering a lethal dose of morphine in 2002 to a boy with cerebral palsy.
Woomer, 53, is currently serving a 7-to-20-year prison sentence for her role in the death of 11-year-old Brent Weaver.
She testified at an appeal hearing Friday, alleging that her trial attorneys limited her testimony and failed to adequately prepare for the two-week trial.
She said that she did not give morphine to the boy.
"I'm not a bad nurse," she told Judge David Ashworth, who will decide the appeal. "I just made some bad decisions that night, based on what the family told me and what the nursing agency told me."
Woomer said Weaver's mother -- and Bayada Nurses, her employer --instructed her to make exceptions to traditional procedures while caring for Brent.
Those exceptions, Woomer testified, included not staying in the same room as Brent and limiting how often she checked on him.
"I felt limited in my ability to care for this child. I was told to not make waves and to keep the mother happy," Woomer testified. "I did what Mrs. Weaver asked me to do."
Woomer said her attorneys instructed her not to mention those details at the trial because they feared it would open the door to certain evidence that could be damaging to her defense.
"That if I said certain things, this door would open to this big abyss," Woomer said. Her attorneys were Christopher Patterson, Bob Reese and Paula Knudsen Burke.
All three attorneys testified Friday that the trial strategy was to present Woomer as a competent nurse who wouldn't make the mistake that led to the boy's death. The plan was to blame his death on someone else, according to testimony.
A potential strategy, according to Woomer, was that she was working on her laptop computer and didn't notice anyone else who might have entered Brent's room that night.
Her attorneys nixed that strategy, Woomer said.
"They wanted to present me as this super nurse who wouldn't compromise standards," Woomer said on the stand. "I did compromise nursing standards."
Woomer said, in hindsight, she should have called Bayada and asked for another nurse to be sent to the Weaver home because she didn't feel comfortable making such exceptions.
On cross-examination, Assistant District Attorney Amber Czerniakowski pointed out that Woomer did testify, in part, to those details.
"I felt like I was walking through a land mine," Woomer said, explaining that her trial testimony was a limited version of what happened.
Woomer said she wasn't allowed at trial to testify about anything Bayada told her.
On Friday, she provided that testimony.
"For three nights, the nursing agency begged me to take the case," Woomer testified. "They told me this was a simple case. (They said), 'Just do what you have to do to get through the night.' "
Patterson testified and talked about the potential damage he believed Woomer's complete statement could have caused at trial.
Ronald Woomer, Joy Woomer's ex-husband, had turned over to police syringes, vials and pills that he said he found at their home. Joy Woomer had brought them home from work, Ronald Woomer told police.
Patterson said those 13 items would have hampered the defense. He testified that one of the syringes was traced to a boy Woomer was caring for around the same time of Brent's death. That boy was prescribed morphine, Patterson explained.
Ashworth ruled that testimony about those items would not be admissible at the trial, but it could be used by the prosecution if the defense opened the door.
Jeffrey Rowe, Woomer's appeal attorney, referred to the items as "the elephant in the room" during trial.
"We didn't want any information to come out that Joy had access to morphine," Patterson testified Friday. "We were scared to death of that. We wanted to portray Joy as doing a proper job and she didn't have these items when caring for (Brent)."
Patterson said the items would have made Woomer appear to be a "sloppy nurse."
"We didn't want to come in (during the trial) any connection between these items and any children Joy cared for," Patterson said.
Ashworth will rule on the appeal after attorneys for both sides file briefs, due in late May.
Relatives and supporters of Woomer packed the courtroom gallery for the six-hour hearing. Woomer, wearing blue prison scrubs, occasionally turned to them and smiled.
nSays attorneys failed her when she was convicted of murder of 11-year-old boy.