Saying he had "serious doubts" about the case against her, a McHenry County judge sentenced Marty Himebaugh, dubbed the "Angel of Death" after she was charged with overmedicating patients at a Woodstock senior facility, to two years probation on Wednesday.
Judge Joseph Condon also ordered the 60-year-old Himebaugh of Lake in the Hills to pay a $5,000 fine.
Himebaugh was charged in 2008 with five felonies, including criminal neglect, obtaining a substance by fraud and illegal distribution of a controlled substance.
Illinois State Police began investigating after six suspicious deaths of terminally ill patients at the Woodstock Residence Nursing Center in 2006. Three bodies were exhumed as part of the investigation.
Himebaugh, a former nurse, pleaded guilty earlier this year in exchange for four other charges being dropped.
Neither she nor her supervisor, Penny Whitlock, was ever accused of killing a patient.
Defense attorney Sam Amirante said Himebaugh had been unfairly labeled in the media, had lost her nursing license and had suffered greatly. Amirante wanted to take the case to trial, but Himebaugh wanted to plead guilty to move forward and not subject the family of Tony Hodges to a trial.
"She's an angel of courage, she's an angel of compassion, she's an angel of decency," Amirante told Condon.
Hodges was a hospice patient suffering from terminal liver cancer; Himebaugh pleaded guilty to giving him two drugs that were not prescribed to him.
Himebaugh did not address the court. She didn't show any outward reaction when Condon announced the sentence of probation. Amirante put his hand on her shoulder and squeezed a few times.
Condon also presided over the trial of Whitlock, 62, of Woodstock, who was found not guilty of destroying evidence and neglect. Whitlock was Himebaugh's supervisor.
Condon said he had "serious doubts" on Whitlock's case as well as Himebaugh's. Condon noted that numerous nurses testified in Whitlock's trial to the supposed overmedicating of patients at the Woodstock facility, but no one had ever called police.
"Perhaps things weren't as bad as they were made out to seem when the Illinois State Police conducted their investigation," Condon said.
Phil Hiscock, chief of the McHenry County State's Attorney's Office Criminal Division, argued for a two-year prison term, saying Himebaugh repeatedly overmedicated patients.
The felony Himebaugh to which pleaded guilty carried a prison term of one to three years, but probation also was an option. The other charges that were dropped as part of the plea deal also carried a top sentence of three years and she would have served them all at the same time if convicted.
Afterward, Hiscock said he would not have done anything differently in handling the case and that the state police did an excellent job in their investigation.
"We thought there was sufficient grounds to move forward and we still feel that way," Hiscock said. "Marty Himebaugh was held accountable. She now has a felony conviction."
The families of Virginia Cole and Sharon Hunt have sued Whitlock and Himebaugh for damages and the cases are due again in McHenry County court on Jan. 12 and March 30, respectively.