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Police in Kansas arrest woman accused in patient’s death from 20 years ago

Photo Illustration - Carlos Moreno
Livingston County Sheriff's Office

The former respiratory therapist’s lawyer had said she would turn herself in on for the murder charge from a patient death that occurred 20 years ago at a Missouri hospital. Police in Overland Park, Kansas, arrested her for identity theft on Thursday.

Jennifer Hall, the Overland Park woman charged with first-degree murder for the 2002 death of a patient at a rural Missouri hospital, was arrested Thursday night in Johnson County, Kansas, on an identity theft charge.

Hall had been listed as one of the Livingston County Sheriff’s most wanted suspects after prosecutors brought a charge against her last week for the 2002 death of Fern Franco, who was a patient at the Hedrick Medical Center in Chillicothe, Missouri.

Franco was one of nine people who died at the hospital under mysterious circumstances while Hall worked there as a respiratory therapist between Dec. 16, 2001 and May 21, 2002. In a civil lawsuit filed years ago, Hall was accused of killing Franco and other patients at the hospital by intentionally overdosing them with a muscle relaxant and other drugs. Hall has denied those accusations.

An attorney for Hall, 41, who couldn’t immediately be reached on Friday morning, said earlier in the week that arrangements would be made for Hall to surrender to Livingston County authorities.

But an Overland Park police officer arrested Hall, who also goes by Jennifer Semaboye, on Thursday night. That’s six days after the Johnson County District Attorney filed a felony identity theft charge against Hall for an alleged incident that occurred in 2019. Further details were not immediately available on Friday.

The Livingston County prosecutor has requested that Hall be held without bond.

Matthew O’Connor, Hall’s attorney, filed a request on Thursday to reduce bond because Hall suffers from leukemia and was scheduled for a third round of chemotherapy on May 23. She also suffers from seizures and had an appointment with a neurologist later this month, O’Connor’s motion said.

Hall waived arraignment and entered a not guilty plea in the Chillicothe case, court records show.

Hall’s past

Before Hall was a respiratory therapist for the Hedrick Medical Center, she worked at the Cass Medical Center in Harrisonville, Missouri.

After a fire at Cass Medical Center in 2001, Hall left Cass and went to work for the hospital in Chillicothe.

According to police records, an abnormal number of “code blue” events — or instances of patients suffering sudden cardiac or respiratory arrest — happened after Hall started working at Hedrick Medical Center.

A doctor, nurses and a risk manager for the hospital started to suspect Hall’s involvement in those deaths. They took their concerns about Hall to hospital administrators, who were dismissive of their complaints, according to claims made in a civil lawsuit years later.

Just days after Franco died, the hospital placed Hall on administrative leave.

Hall would face an arson charge for the fire at Cass Medical Center. She was convicted and spent a year in prison, from 2003 to 2004. Then a Missouri appeals court vacated Hall’s conviction after concluding she was poorly served by her defense attorney.

Cass County prosecutors tried Hall a second time, and a jury acquitted her of the arson charge in 2005.

Years later, families of some of the patients who died at Hedrick Medical Center sued the hospital and St. Luke’s Health System, which bought the hospital. The lawsuits didn’t name Hall as a defendant, but accused her of causing the patient deaths. They also accused the hospital of covering up the circumstances of the patients’ deaths.

The Missouri Supreme Court later tossed out those lawsuits, saying the statute of limitations to bring a wrongful death claim had expired. That’s despite arguments by lawyers representing the families that, because of the alleged coverup, there was no way for families to know the circumstances of their loved ones’ deaths.

— KCUR's Dan Margolies contributed to this report.

This story comes from the Midwest Newsroom, an investigative journalism collaboration including IPRKCUR 89.3Nebraska Public Media NewsSt. Louis Public Radioand NPR.

For more in-depth news from Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska, we invite you to follow us on Twitter.

Steve Vockrodt is the former investigative editor for the Midwest Newsroom.