By MELINDA WILLIAMS
Calling her actions “despicable” a Pulaski County judge Thursday threatened to send a former nurse to prison for 40 years for stealing her patients’ pain medications and selling them.
Melissa Joyce Broyles, 43, of Barren Springs was a nurse at Highland Ridge Rehabilitation Center in Dublin when she was arrested in Pulaski and Wythe counties in August 2012 for selling the drugs to a co-worker. The co-worker was working with police.
“How do you think your patients felt?” Circuit Court Judge Marcus Long Jr. asked Broyles.
Broyles responded that none of her patients, whom she estimated to be 70-80 years old, were in pain. She acknowledged they were prescribed the medications, but contended she took pills from patients who were asleep when doses were due to be given.
“I didn’t wake them up,” she told Judge Long. She insisted she is certain the patients never experienced pain because of her actions because she had to document their level of pain.
Asked why she stole the medications, Broyles said, “People make mistakes.”
“I know you made a mistake,” Long said. He pointed out that he could send Broyles to prison for 40 years. “I think what you did was pretty despicable,” he added.
Asked by defense attorney Jonathan McGrady whether any patients ever went without their medications as a result of her actions, Broyles said no. However, pushed by Judge Long to explain how that could be true, Broyles suggested she misunderstood the question and said they did.
“I’m sorry,” she told the judge, who responded, “I know that.”
Four defense witnesses testified on Broyles’ behalf Thursday.
Neighbor Bernard Stoots said, “You couldn’t ask for a better neighbor” than Broyles and added that he has never had any reason to question her voracity or integrity.
Susan Hurst, Broyles’ supervisor at Highland Ridge and now director of nursing at Riverview in Rich Creek, said Broyles was an “excellent nurse” who was “very caring and went above and beyond” the call of duty. If Broyles hadn’t lost her nursing license, Hurst said she would hire her again and allow her to dispense medications.
Jonathan Broyles said his mother helps care for his 2- and 4-year old children and he wouldn’t have anyone to help if she is sent to jail.
The defendant’s current boss at Comfort Inn in Dublin used the words great worker, responsible and reliable to describe Broyles.
Upon taking the stand during her sentencing hearing, Broyles quietly said, “I’m truly remorseful for anything and everything I’ve done.” Asked to speak up, she said she was having trouble talking because of a lung infection.
She said she lost her nursing license and job as a result of her crimes, which subsequently resulted in a reduction in income and “a loss of respect from a lot of people.” Broyles indicated she never used any of the pills she took; she just sold them.
“People make mistakes. People have lapses of judgment,” she told the court.
McGrady told the judge that Broyles made her own bed and she now has to lie in it, but he asked Long to consider that she has no prior record, aside from the Wythe County drug sales that occurred within 20 hours of the ones in this county.
“She’s not trying to make excuses. This is a situation where a good person made a horrible mistake,” said McGrady. He added that Broyles still has something to offer society.
Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Skip Schwab suggested the only explanation for Broyles’ actions is that “It was easy money.”
Judge Long said it is “unbelievable” to him that Broyles, in a position of trust, stole medication that should have been given to her patients. He said the patients were “basically helpless.”
Although he expressed disdain that state sentencing guidelines called for a minimal sentence, Long ultimately sentenced her within the guidelines.
Broyles received 20 years in prison, with all but one year, six months suspended. She will be placed on five years probation upon release and, as required by state law, her driver’s license is suspended for six months.
McGrady requested that Broyles be allowed to report to jail at a later date due to the fact she is taking antibiotics for her illness.
Judge Long denied the request, noting the jail will see that she gets her medications. The he added, “I hope the nurse doesn’t take it from her.”