Nurse to Stand Trial in Boy's Morphine Death
Jack Braubaker / Lancaster New Era
December 02, 2008
Joy O’Shea Woomer, a licensed practical nurse, will stand trial on a charge that she administered a lethal dose of morphine to an 11-year-old East Hempfield Township boy more than six years ago.
But no one knows how much morphine was in the boy’s body or whether other drugs found in the body also may have been at toxic levels.
The 49-year-old Woomer, dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit, was relieved of her handcuffs during a preliminary hearing before District Judge David Brian Monday.
The handcuffs were returned after Brian ordered the nurse to stand trial in the death of Brent Weaver, who had cerebral palsy. He was the son of Mark and Carol Weaver.
Two months ago, police charged Woomer with homicide and two felony drug charges. She has been held in Lancaster County Prison since then.
Woomer was caring for the boy at his home when he died on the night of Sept. 26-27, 2002. His parents were both asleep upstairs and Woomer was the sole caregiver in the boy’s downstairs bedroom, according to testimony at the 2½ hour hearing.
Forensic pathologist Dr. Wayne Ross verified that his autopsy of the boy’s body had found “acute morphine intoxication.”
But under close questioning by defense attorney Chris Patterson, Ross acknowledged that he did not know how much morphine was in the body or how it was introduced to the body.
When Patterson expressed surprise that the doctor had not determined the amount of morphine after six years, Ross said, “Whatever the level of morphine in this boy should never have been in him at all.”
Patterson asked if Ross had found other substances in the body.
Ross said there were two.
The first, succinylcholine, is an indigenous chemical in the body, Ross said. He said he does not know whether the amount of succinylcholine in the boy’s body was “indigenous or not.”
Ross said the other chemical, rocuronium, would have had to have been introduced to the body. He said he does not know if it was at a toxic level.
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Much of the testimony related to how Woomer handled her job of caring for Brent Weaver from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. on the day of his death.
Carol Weaver, dressed in a black suit, said Woomer was a substitute nurse whom she had met only once before.
She said she and her husband were asleep at 6 a.m. when Woomer came halfway up the stairs to the second floor calling out to them that Brent was not responding.
“I ran downstairs,” Weaver said. “I said, ‘What do you mean he’s not responding?’ I didn’t know what she meant.”
Emergency personnel were called but could not revive the boy.