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Former Vanderbilt nurse RaDonda Vaught won't serve prison time in 2017 drug error death

Vaught fought back tears as she addressed the family and court after testimony wrapped up, saying she thinks about the victim and her mistake every day.

NASHVILLE, Tenn — A former Vanderbilt nurse convicted in the 2017 drug-swap death of a 74-year-old patient will not serve time in prison and will instead serve three years on probation after a judge granted her a judicial diversion.

A jury convicted RaDonda Vaught on March 25 of criminally negligent homicide and abuse of an impaired adult for administering a fatal dose of the wrong drug to 74-year-old Charlene Murphey the day after Christmas in 2017.

Davidson County Criminal Court Judge Jennifer Smith handed down the diversion Friday afternoon after a morning of testimony, declining the state's argument to deliver an enhanced sentence because she said Vaught had clearly accepted responsibility for the error.

Smith said Vaught would have served her three-year effective sentence in prison if not for the diversion, saying Vaught had shown a high probability for rehabilitation and was a low risk of breaking her probation. 

Instead, Vaught will now serve a probationary period and have the opportunity to have her criminal convictions dismissed so long as she successfully completes her probation.

People waiting outside the courthouse supporting Vaught cheered when they heard the judge's decision.

"I want to assure the Murphey family that the court is deeply sorry for their loss," Smith said. "Going forward, I hope [this case] prevents this type of situation from happening again."

The court heard from members of the victim's family and people who knew Vaught Friday morning. Some members of Murphey's family, including her son Michael Murphey, took the stand.

Michael Murphey said his mother was a "forgiving person" and likely would not have wanted Vaught to face prison time, but said his father would likely disagree.

Vaught's friends and former co-workers took the stand to testify about her character, describing her as a caring and excellent nurse. 

Vaught fought back tears as she addressed the family and court after testimony wrapped up, saying she still thinks about Murphey and her mistake every day.

"I will never, ever forget my role in this. I don't know what else to say that would make anything different. I am very sorry for what happened," Vaught said. "I have lost far more than just my nursing license and my career. I will never be the same. When Miss Murphy died, a part of me died with her, and sadly it was too late to change her outcome when I made my mistake."

Credit: Pool Feed

State prosecutors argued for Vaught to serve an enhanced sentence of three to six years in prison on the grounds of an abuse of trust in her role as a medical practitioner -- saying she made a "knowing choice" to walk away from the patient when she was trusted to provide care and monitor Murphey. However, the state said she would also be a good candidate for probation.

Vaught's defense argued for the judicial diversion to have her conviction dismissed if she successfully serves a probationary period, saying her peers had proven she had been an excellent nurse, but that several factors from that day contributed to her making the deadly mistake.

Vaught's case attracted national attention following her conviction. Tens of thousands of people signed petitions calling for her to be pardoned or to face a light sentence. Thousands of nurses also organized to support Vaught -- with some saying they quit their jobs over the verdict.