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She may never wear street clothes again.
Sitting with her attorney, Kathleen Wise wears a black suit and takes notes with a blue ink pen. The two listen closely to the prosecutor argue why she should be found guilty of murdering her husband, Joseph Kenneth Wise, with a liquid morphine overdose. The argument was apparently persuasive.
After 20 minutes of deliberating, all 12 jurors — 10 men and two women — agreed that Wise is guilty of intentionally murdering her husband.
It took jurors another 10 minutes to recommend that she receive a life prison sentence for her crime.
After each piece of news, Wise sits quietly with her attorney, William Butler of Louisville, and shows little, if any, reaction.
After the sentence recommendation, the only noise heard in the small room is a gasp from one of the Wise family members.
After Taylor Circuit Court Judge Dan Kelly read the jury’s recommended prison sentence, Court Security Officer Lisa Bagby put Wise in handcuffs and escorted her out of the courtroom in the Washington County Judicial Center.
The waiting Wise family members then exchanged hugs and a few tears and said “thank you” to the prosecutors who put Wise behind bars.
Wise, 61, formerly of 4203 Bengal Road, was indicted in July 2011 by a Taylor County grand jury and charged with the first-degree murder of her husband. She pleaded not guilty to the crime. The prosecution did not seek the death penalty.
According to court records, Wise admitted that she added liquid morphine to her husband’s drinking water June 7, 2011. He died the following day. Butler said throughout the case that Wise denied killing her husband.
Wise is a former registered nurse at Medco Nursing Home, now Campbellsville Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.
The criminal charge against Wise stemmed from a toxicology investigation into her husband’s death. Mr. Wise died June 8, 2011, from a supposed heart attack. Routine toxicology tests, however, revealed he consumed a fatal dose of morphine. His cause of death was changed to that and ruled a homicide.
Court records state that a toxicology report found 5,738 ng/ml of morphine in Mr. Wise’s blood and 1,359 ng/ml in his urine. Normal therapeutic ranges, according to court records, are from 10 to 80 ng/ml.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Tim Cocanougher, one of two prosecutors in the case, said he is pleased with the verdict.
“An intentional murder verdict is a hard verdict to get because it’s such a tough penalty,” he said.
After finding her guilty, jurors had the choice of recommending that Wise serve anywhere from 20 to 50 years in prison or life.
Cocanougher said he agrees with a life sentence.
“Since his life was taken, it’s certainly fair that she be sentenced to life in prison,” he said.
After the verdict was read, Butler said he was shocked.
“The jury certainly didn’t see the facts the way the defense saw the facts. I guess the verdict speaks for itself.”
Butler said Wise loved her husband and simply wanted some peace from his screaming and yelling at her.
Butler said he will very likely file an appeal in the case.
It took about an hour and a half to select a jury on Monday morning.
After hearing from the prosecution, defense and witnesses, jurors were given the options of finding Wise not guilty or guilty of intentional murder, wanton murder, second-degree manslaughter or reckless homicide. Wise’s entire trial took about seven hours to complete.
Formal sentencing for Wise is set for Friday, Sept. 7, in Taylor Circuit Court. Though a judge doesn’t have to follow a jury’s recommendation, they typically do.
At the sentencing hearing, family members and others will be allowed to speak to Kelly about the impact of Wise’s actions.
A state probation and parole officer testified after Wise was found guilty that, if receiving life in prison, she will be eligible to appear before a parole board after serving 20 years of her sentence. She would be 81.
Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Angela Call, also a prosecutor in the case, said during her opening statement that Mr. Wise was a father, grandfather, truck driver and served in the military.
She showed jurors photos of him taken just two days before his death. In them, she said, he appears happy and healthy.
“The next 36 hours of his life are a completely different story,” she said. “He was intentionally murdered by the defendant, there’s no other way to put it.”
Call said Wise told investigators that she took liquid morphine from her workplace and brought it home with her.
“That was a deliberate and intentional act,” Call said.
She told jurors that they will hear that Wise has said she doesn’t know why she gave her husband morphine.
Call said jurors will hear from the toxicologist who performed the autopsy on Mr. Wise’s body. She said he will testify that around 200 ng/ml of morphine is almost always fatal.
“Kenneth had almost 30 times that in his blood,” she said.
Call said the jury would hear that an internal audit was performed at Medco after these allegations surfaced that found Medco’s policies and procedures for the destruction of narcotics weren’t followed.
“We believe there’s no doubt that Kathleen Wise intentionally murdered her husband,” Call said, and asked that jurors find her guilty.
In his short opening statement, Butler said jurors would hear evidence that the Wises had a rocky marriage and that Mr. Wise was physically and emotionally abusive to Mrs. Wise.
“He had a terrible, terrible temper,” Butler said.
Jurors heard from several witnesses in the case, the first being Taylor County Coroner Terry Dabney.
Dabney said Wise told him that her husband had been sick the day before his death and was experiencing chest pain. He said those symptoms fit with the first cause of death, a heart attack. Results from routine testing changed everything.
“The morphine level was extremely high,” Dabney said. “I don’t think, personally, that I have ever seen a morphine level that high.”
Butler asked Dabney if nurses and medical professionals know that blood and urine tests are done when a person dies. Dabney replied that he doesn’t know.
Regina Hornback, a regional nurse consultant, testified that an audit performed at Medco showed that three residents were logged as having received morphine from April through June 2011, though there are no logs to show the patients actually received the morphine. She testified that there was morphine unaccounted for at the facility.
Detective Mark Bratcher from the Louisville Police Department testified that Wise told him during an interview that she took morphine from Medco and gave it to her husband in his ice water.
“She told me it was a lot,” he said. “She didn’t really give any reason other than she felt bad about it.”
Bratcher told jurors that Wise said during his interview with her that she felt guilty about giving her husband morphine and shouldn’t have done it.
Kevin Shanks, a toxicologist with AIT Laboratories in Indianapolis, Ind., testified via Skype technology that the morphine found in Mr. Wise’s blood was at a level greater than “critical” or “toxic.”
He said the “critical” range for the drug is at 200 ng/ml or more. A “fatal” level falls at between 200 and 2,300 ng/ml, he said.
Butler asked Shanks about a concept called post-mortem redistribution in which drugs will release from tissues and go back into the blood stream and can cause an artificial rise in drug levels.
Shanks said that does happen, though even if it happened in Mr. Wise’s body, the morphine level would still fall in the “fatal” range.
Shanks testified that there were several other drugs found in Mr. Wise’s body, though they were all at or below the therapeutic range.
Taylor County Sheriff’s Detective Brian Pickard testified that on June 6, 2011, Mr. Wise went to a birthday party. He awoke the next day and wasn’t feeling well and Wise stayed home from work with him.
Pickard said Wise told him her husband was in bed most of the day and she fed him chicken noodle soup with a glass of water that night. The next morning, Pickard said, Wise said her husband was experiencing chest pain.
He said she found her husband dead in his bed between 8 and 8:30 a.m.
Pickard testified that in an interview, Wise said she didn’t know why she had given her husband morphine and that “no one deserves to die like that.”
Jurors heard a transcript of an interview Wise gave with Pickard and Taylor County Sheriff Allen Newton.
In that interview, Wise said she didn’t intend to kill her husband and didn’t think the amount of morphine she gave him would kill him.
“I know that I did not want him to die,” she said during the interview.
When asked why she gave him the morphine, Wise replied, “Kenneth Wise was not very nice to me. I mean, I didn’t want to kill him.”
Wise said during the interview that her husband was very controlling and that she wanted him to get a good night’s rest so she wouldn’t have to worry about him yelling at her.
“I have no excuse for what I did,” she said.
When asked why Wise didn’t grant her husband’s request for a divorce, she told Pickard and Newton, “I guess I just loved him.”
Pickard told jurors that after the interview concluded, he told Wise that he was going to arrest and charge her with murder.
She asked if she could be the one to tell a family member. Pickard said he allowed that and overheard Wise telling the family member that she had put the morphine in her husband’s water. He said the two then hugged each other and cried together.
Butler asked Pickard if Mr. Wise had any life insurance that Wise would get upon his death. He testified that he found no financial motive for Wise to kill her husband and can’t speak to her motive for her actions.
Pickard told jurors that he asked Wise family members if Mr. Wise became angry easily, to which they said he didn’t.
Dr. Jeff Springer, a state medical examiner in Louisville, testified that he performed Mr. Wise’s autopsy and found that the amount of morphine in his blood would have been fatal to anyone.
After Springer’s testimony, jurors were given a break. Afterwards, Kelly announced that the prosecution had concluded its case and that the defense would have no witnesses testify. Wise did not testify in her own defense.
In his closing argument, Butler told jurors, “Today, you have a woman’s life in your hands.”
He said it is important to remember that Wise is presumed innocent until proven guilty and that the prosecution must prove her guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Butler said jurors can’t hold Wise’s decision to not testify as an admission of her guilt.
Butler said if Wise set out to kill her husband, she would have known that there would be routine blood and urine tests that would reveal his morphine levels.
“You don’t have to check your common sense at the door,” he said.
Butler said the jury heard that Wise told investigators she didn’t intend to kill her husband.
“She said, ‘I did not want him to die.’”
Butler said jurors should remember that Wise said she gave her husband morphine so he could get a good night’s sleep and, therefore, she would get some peace.
“What I think [the evidence shows] is that this was a tragic accident,” Butler said. “Ladies and gentlemen, Kathleen Wise’s life is in your hands.”
In his closing statement, Cocanougher said it is seldom that a case of this magnitude can be concluded in just a few hours.
“The evidence is clear that beyond a reasonable doubt, Kathleen Wise intentionally murdered her husband.”
Any other verdict, he said, would be a reward to Wise for her actions.
Cocanougher said that during the two weeks that followed Mr. Wise’s death, Wise never told anyone that she had given him morphine. He said her saying she didn’t want to kill her husband is expected.
“What else was she gonna say, I mean, honestly,” he said. “It wasn’t an accident.”
Cocanougher said it was shown that Wise was stockpiling morphine from Medco. He said she made no effort to call for medical attention after giving him morphine.
Cocanougher said that was as if she was saying, “Here honey, I don’t want you to die, what happens happens.”