Ex-Texas nurse pleads guilty in 1981 death of 11-month-old

A former Texas nurse suspected in the killing of dozens of children has pleaded guilty to the 1981 death of an 11-month-old

SAN ANTONIO -- A former Texas nurse suspected in the killing of dozens of children pleaded guilty Thursday to the 1981 death of an 11-month-old, receiving a life sentence that a prosecutor said will likely ensure she dies in prison.

Genene Jones, 69, was sent to prison in 1984 after being convicted for the death of one child and for giving an overdose to another.

She had been set to be released from prison in 2018 under a mandatory release law that was in place when she was convicted. But prosecutors in 2017, citing new evidence, filed five separate murder charges related to the deaths of children in the early 1980s.

“With this plea, the odds are she will take her last breath in prison,” prosecutor Catherine Babbitt said after the hearing.

She had been set to go to trial in February. She was sentenced Thursday in the death of Joshua Sawyer, who investigators say died of a fatal overdose of an anti-seizure drug. The other four cases were dismissed, prosecutors said.

Babbitt said Jones must serve 20 years in prison before she gets the chance of parole. She said that because Jones will get credit of about two years for the time served in Bexar County Jail awaiting trial she'll be eligible for parole in 18 years — when she's about 87.

Children died of unexplained seizures and other complications when Jones worked at a San Antonio hospital and clinic in Kerrville, about 55 miles (90 kilometers) to the northwest of San Antonio.

She was sentenced in 1984 to 99 years in prison in the killing of 15-month-old Chelsea McClellan. Later that year, she was sentenced to 60 years in prison in the sickening of 4-week-old Rolando Santos, who recovered. Chelsea was given a fatal injection of a muscle relaxant and Rolando received a large injection of a blood thinner.

In 2017, she was charged in the killing of Sawyer. She was later that year charged in the 1981 killing of 2-year-old Rosemary Vega, the 1981 killing of 8-month-old Richard “Ricky” Nelson, the 1982 killing of 4-month-old Patrick Zavala and the 1981 killing of 3-month-old Paul Villarreal.

“We trust our nurses — our nurses are specifically trained to provide comfort and medical care for their patients," Babbitt said after the hearing. “And these patients were not only children but they were often critically ill children. And for her to decide on her watch who lived and who died is nothing short of evil.”

Prosecutors at Jones' 1984 murder trial said she injected children with drugs at the Kerrville clinic to demonstrate the need for a pediatric intensive care unit at a nearby hospital. Other prosecutors theorized that her tactic was to take swift medical action and save some of her victims so she could appear to be a sort of miracle worker.

In 2017, then-Bexar County District Attorney Nico LaHood said prosecutors "don't really know" her motivation.

Hood had approved a task for when he took office in 2015 to investigate Jones. Last year, Joe Gonzales replaced LaHood as district attorney.