Angel of Death' Says She Killed Patients to Help Them
April 18, 2007


'Angel of Death' Says She Killed Patients to Help Them

A German nurse has gone on trial in Berlin charged with killing six patients with lethal drug overdoses. She says she was trying to end their suffering. The prosecution says she came to see her herself as "mistress over life and death." There have been several similar cases in Germany in recent years.

A German nurse dubbed the "Angel of Death" by German media went on trial on Wednesday charged with six counts of murder at one of the country's leading hospitals.

The 54-year old nurse, named only as Irene B., confessed to killing four seriously ill patients at Berlin's Charite hospital by giving lethal overdoses of medicine.

"In all four cases I believed that I was acting in the interest of the patients and in the end for their own good," she said in a statement read out by her lawyer. "I would like to ask the families for forgiveness."

After the lawyer had finished Irene B., short-haired and wearing glasses and an orange scarf, stood up and said in a quiet voice: "In our world it's often not easy. People get older and can keep on getting older. With hindsight I regret that I intervened in people's fate. I know that wasn't right, that it was a crime I have to pay for."

State prosecutors accuse the nurse, who worked in the cardiac intensive care unit, of committing six murders and two attempted murders between the end of 2005 and October 2006.

A desire for power?

The prosecution said in its opening statement that she was driven by a desire for power, had "acted as mistress over life and death and based her decision on her own view over which life was worth living and which wasn't."

The woman was arrested in October 2006 after staff at the hospital noticed an unusual increase in the incidence of deaths.

The son of one of the victims said he was upset by defense lawyers' attempts to portray the nurse in a positive light. "This is about taking away life," Wolfgang Arlt said as he arrived at court. "In my father's case it was a matter of hours but in others, it was weeks, months or years."

One witness, a male nurse, said Irene B. had seemed "burned out" and had been gruff with her patients. The witness, named only as Gunnar F., said he had seen how she turned over one patient very roughly and had heard from a colleague that she became aggressive with other patients. Once she laughed out loud at the death of a patient. "That was so inappropriate, so strange," he said. But the nurse had then apologized.

The case is the latest in a string of similar incidents in Germany. In the country's biggest case of serial killings since World War II, a male nurse in the Bavarian town of Sonthofen was sentenced to life in prison last November for killing 28 patients with a cocktail of lethal drugs.

In February 2006, a 27-year old nurse was sentenced to life for killing nine female patients in a nursing home near Bonn.

Reporting by Anna Reimann with material from Reuters.

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