More details available in morphine murder case

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By Calen McKinney

The Campbellsville woman accused of murdering her husband with a morphine overdose has pleaded not guilty to the crime.


Kathleen H. Wise, 60, of 4203 Bengal Road, a registered nurse and former Medco nursing home employee, was arrested Tuesday, July 19, at 5 p.m. and charged with the domestic violence murder of her husband, Joseph Kenneth Wise. She faces as much as life in prison.

On Monday, July 25, she pleaded not guilty in Taylor District Court.

Taylor District Court Judge Amy Anderson set Wise's bond at $100,000 cash, and she was ordered to hire her own attorney because she owns property. However, at press time, no attorney was listed in court records.

The allegations against Wise stem from a toxicology investigation into her husband's death.

According to a Taylor County Sheriff's Office report, the office received a call on July 7 about a death that occurred a month earlier.

The report states that Taylor County Coroner Terry Dabney pronounced Mr. Wise, 71, dead at his home in Campbellsville on June 8. At the time, it was believed that he died of a heart attack. However, according to court records, toxicology reports that were returned to Dabney's office on June 28 revealed that a "fatal" dose of morphine was found in Mr. Wise's blood and urine.

After receiving those results, Dabney turned over the reports to the sheriff's office for further investigation by Taylor County Sheriff's Detective Brian Pickard. After his investigation, Pickard charged Mrs. Wise with murder.

She was arrested and booked into the Taylor County Detention Center on July 19 at about 8 p.m. As of press time, Wise remains incarcerated.

Wise is scheduled to appear in district court again at 9 a.m. Wednesday for a preliminary hearing. However, Pickard said Tuesday that he has been asked to present the case against Wise to a Taylor County grand jury next week for possible indictment.

Court records state that Wise told officers that she believed her husband had suffered from heart problems or a virus the day before he died. She said she had given him nitroglycerine but hadn't called for medical help.

According to court records, the morphine had to have been given to Mr. Wise at home because his wife and other family members told police that he came home on June 6 and did not leave.

Records state that the toxicology report found 5,738 ng/ml of morphine in Mr. Wise's blood and 1,359 ng/ml in his urine. The normal therapeutic ranges, according to court records, are from 10 to 80 ng/ml.

"... Which indicated a massive overdose of morphine, thereby initiating this death investigation," Pickard wrote in court records.

Pickard wrote that he learned that neither Mr. nor Mrs. Wise had been prescribed morphine. He stated that Wise, at the time, was an employee at Medco Center of Campbellsville and, therefore, had access to narcotic drugs such as morphine.

According to a Kentucky Board of Nursing license validation search, Wise is a registered nurse, though her license, which is set to expire Oct. 31, is currently under investigation. The Board of Nursing website states that Wise has been a registered nurse since March 18, 1993, and has multi-state practice privileges in compact states.

Based on Pickard's investigation, a search warrant was issued for the Wise home on Bengal Road. Court records state that sheriff's deputies executed the warrant on Thursday, July 14 and seized a computer and a Jim Beam flask found in a barn.

Last Friday, Nelda Beard, administrator of Medco Center of Campbellsville, issued an e-mailed statement.

"We were notified by police about a situation involving one of our employees. We immediately suspended this individual and are cooperating with the authorities as they conduct their investigation," Beard wrote. "... The care and safety of our residents is our first priority and we take this responsibility very seriously."

According to Wise's arrest citation, she confessed to giving her husband liquid morphine the day before his death by adding it to his drinking water.

Dabney said last week that Mr. Wise's original cause of death was a heart attack. He said this week that the tests performed on Mr. Wise are routine, though they aren't performed on every person. When a person dies of a long illness or of a disease, Dabney said, they often aren't. But when a person dies suddenly, he said, the tests are commonly performed to rule out certain causes of death.

Dabney said Mr. Wise died of morphine intoxication, which didn't cause a heart attack but did shut down the systems in his body.

"... Just as a heart attack does," he said.

Dabney said Mr. Wise's body has been exhumed for further testing. A full forensic autopsy has been performed in Louisville. The results could take two to three months, though Dabney says he doesn't expect to find much else. He said Mr. Wise's toxicology report is telling.

"[It] pretty well tells us the story," he said.

Taylor County Sheriff Allen Newton said on Tuesday that his office is finalizing the paperwork in the case against Wise. Though the investigation hasn't yet been completed, he says the case against Wise will be ready to present to a grand jury.

Newton said his office has interviewed Wise, though she has since asked for an attorney and is no longer willing to talk to deputies.

"This is a unique case," Newton said.

According to Mr. Wise's obituary, he was a member of Our Lady of the Hills Catholic Church and served in the United States Army.

He is survived by two sons, a daughter and their spouses, Greg and Susan Wise of Campbellsville, Kristi Wise of Elizabethtown and Keith and Hollie Wise of Lebanon; a stepson and stepdaughter-in-law, Kevin and Jennifer Hibbard of Greensburg; seven grandchildren and several other relatives.

His funeral was Friday, June 10 at Our Lady of the Hills in Campbellsville. He was buried in the church cemetery.

Domestic violence murder is a Class A felony, punishable by as much as life in prison.