A serial killer of babies was nearly released from prison. A years’ long effort by the mothers who lost their infants kept her behind bars. ‘The Evidence Room’ unearths the case against the highly skilled nurse Genene Jones.
Petti Coats Wiese couldn’t fathom how anyone could harm a child. For years she told anyone who would listen of her daughter Chelsea’s tragic story.
15-month-old Chelsea stopped breathing because of pediatric nurse Genene Jones.
“I said, something’s wrong. Something’s wrong. And, she was like, ‘No, she’s just mad because she’s gotten [a] shot.’ And, she goes for another shot,” she told us at the time.
Doctors fought to keep Chelsea alive, sending her to San Antonio. Little did they know, Jones slipped into the ambulance, injecting Chelsea again.
Kiley Holbrook is Chelsea’s younger sister. She was with her mom before she passed from natural causes, waging the fight to stop the killer nurse from getting out of prison.
“I had never seen her age so much so fast. But it was not just her carrying her burden. It was her carrying these other mom’s burdens. Because these moms that finally did get called into San Antonio around the 2013, 2015 time period, they were still terrified from the eighties. They were still terrified,” she says. “So mom carrying the burden for these moms, too. I mean, she grew this, this relationship with them, and they leaned on her. So, I think that in addition to her own battles, she knew this battle was for was for them. So, it was even it was even scarier to her.”
Chelsea was the last person Jones would kill. Jones was convicted of Chelsea’s murder in 1984, along with nearly killing Rolando Santos with an overdose of blood thinner. In 1985 Jones was sentenced to 99 years for Chelsea’s murder and a concurrent 60 year sentence for nearly killing Santos.
Victim advocate Andy Kahan, paired up with Petti to keep Jones from being paroled. More pressing was the work to keep Jones from being released from prison in 2018. Her impending release was due to an old Texas law that allowed offenders convicted of any crime between 1977 and 1987 to accrue so-called “good time.” This meant for every day an offender showed good behavior behind bars they were allowed to knock a day off the amount of time they were required to remain in prison before being released. The only hope to keep Jones in prison was to find another case against her.
“Petti was a warrior,” Former Bexar County District Attorney Nico LaHood shares. “. You talk about a mommy honoring her to her child, the treasure of her life. She did it. I mean, she was I mean, the stamina that woman had. I believe that she’s with her baby now and she was a precious woman.”
LaHood wanted to do something for Petti and the other mothers, but he needed to find out how to revive the old cases. Then Jason Goss entered his office.
“My wife and I were watching Forensic Files and the Forensic Files episode came on about Genene Jones. And so, as we’re watching it, my wife, who’s also a prosecutor, she said, you know, that’s San Antonio. I mean, you can do something like you can do something about that, because, on the Forensic Files episode, I think at the end it said something like she’s going to be released in 2018,” Goss shares. “I said, But I need a commitment from you because I’m going to be you know, it’s going to take a lot of work. And she said, yeah, no, absolutely. If you can keep that woman in jail, you need to do it. So that’s when I went to Nico.”
Goss and his team would take on the daunting task of combing through more than 50 evidence boxes, mostly containing grand jury transcripts.
“You had their testimony, had all their testimony, and had exactly how they were feeling about it at the time, being confronted with the evidence at the time,” he tells us. “When it got to us, we knew that a convicted baby murderer was on the floor doing these things.”
Joshua Sawyer died in December of 1981. His mother Connie Weeks kept his medical records, and those records were vital to the new case against Jones.
Many of the records that may show Jones’s involvement in other deaths were shredded or lost by hospital administrators.
“In what she had, it had the nurse assignment. It had the bedroom like the bed that he was assigned to. It had all of these things that showed that that [a] Dilantin overdose could be the only cause,” says Goss.
When Sawyer died, Weeks was out of his room.
In 1981, Feliciano Rodriguez was at the San Antonio General Hospital for immunizations, only to be given a deadly injection. He was only five months old.
“To us, It was going to be a routine in and out. And he never came out of it,” his mother Marina Rodriguez says. “Gasping for air and just turning blue. He goes into cardiac arrest right there in the office.”
Rodriguez was only 15 years old when she had Feliciano. She was always suspicious of her son’s death. Her pleas were widely ignored until Chelsea’s death.
Some believe Jones found the perfect hunting ground as a pediatric nurse.
“Genene was able to hide it,” says Goss. “Because they’re very sick and some of them are going to be expected to not make it. But Rosemary was not one of those kids.”
Rosemary Cantu died of an unknown substance. Her mother, Rosemarie Vega Cantu was a 17-year-old custodian at the hospital and watched Jones inject her.
“The doctor that the doctor that had operated on her was flabbergasted because he said there’s there’s no reason there’s, there was no explanation for this child to die. There was no there was no complications. Her heart was fine,” says Goss.
Vega Cantu testified in front of the grand jury.
Goss adds, “I mean when you hear a mother say that this woman who is a baby killer injected your child and immediately the child goes into a code blue and then the child dies. That’s an eyewitness to a baby killer doing baby killer stuff.”
Melissa Luna has a similar story as Kiley Holbrook. She never knew her older brother Paul, and her mother, Juanita Villarreal died while justice was served to Jones a second time.
Paul died while four months old on September 24th, 1981.
He was born with a deformed skull. He was in the hospital after a successful surgery correcting it.
Jones waited for his mother to leave. Just like Connie Weeks, she was told her son died.
Luna says her mother never got clear answers after Paul’s death or even a chance to talk to a doctor. She was told her son had a heart problem. Decades later, prosecutors would allege Jeanine Jones injected baby Paul with a powerful drug that killed him.
“Paul Villarreal was heparin all day. Like Paul Villarreal was bleeding out of his eyes,” Goss says. “Paul Villarreal was happening within a couple of weeks of Rolando Santos. And so, what was going on there? You could see that like she had kind of chosen heparin by that point.”
Rolando Santos survived his injection because of a smart doctor.
“Dr. Copeland knew that there had to be somebody giving him an overdose of heparin, tried to move him off the floor after he saved him because he said, ‘I don’t want him on this floor,’” Goss tells us. “So, they actually put Rolando down on a different floor that Genene couldn’t access. He didn’t know Genene. He knew that something somebody there was doing something.”
During this time, lawyers found out Genene was researching articles about how to fill a needle and inject heparin into her subjects. This wasn’t a common way heparin was used by medical professionals in the 80′s.
Goss adds, “Dr. Copeland suspected subcutaneous injection, which he was right because that’s what she was doing. She didn’t have her normal way of doing it.”
Goss said officials at the Bexar County Hospital, which has since been renamed University Hospital, knew they had a problem on their hands. The CDC conducted a study of “code blues” and infant deaths at the hospital by shift and found sharp increases while Jones was on the clock. The CDC’s study referred to Jones as “Nurse 32.″
“I’ve actually seen, or we’ve had copies of meetings in minutes where they’ve actually discussed it,” Goss tells us.
Despite these concerns, Goss says Jones was given a glowing recommendation when she went to Kerrville.
“They said she was a great nurse. They said that anybody would be lucky to have her,” Goss shares. “That’s the only reason she went there is because they found a way to take her off the floor. And they definitely had already had those meetings about specifically Genene Jones by that point.”
The Tipping Point
“I went with my mom as support. And, and we sat in the little victim’s room, you know, outside of where the grand jury was being discussed the first time by Jason, and that administration, whenever they did decide to indict,” says Kiley Holbrook.
She says her mom poured her heart out, just like many of the other mothers who shared their stories. Within hours the grand jury returned with a verdict.
“This grand jury came out and just hugged on the mom’s necks as they exited the room,” says Holbrook. “They just wanted to see these moms. They wanted to physically touch them and hug them and say, you know, ‘I’m sorry.’ And I mean, you just don’t hear you just don’t hear about that stuff.”
The families got their miracle that day as Jones pleaded guilty to killing Joshua Sawyer. However, Goss believes Jones is responsible for as many as 60 murders. Goss said Jones appears to have confessed to all the murders during a parole interview in 1998. Goss said Jones was quoted as saying “I really did kill all those babies.” Goss said the interviewer asked Jones to clarify whether she was referring to the cases she had been convicted of, “and she said, ‘no, I’m not talking about those, the other ones.’”
Goss said it is unclear why Jones’ statement didn’t prompt any further action in 1998. Jones will now not be eligible for parole until 2037, when she will be 87 years old.