A former nurse who pleaded guilty to killing 24 patients admitted Monday to killing five more people by injecting them with lethal doses of drugs.
The confessions by 45-year-old Charles Cullen brought to 29 the number of victims he admitted killing in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The five new victims ranged in age from 49 to 81.
Cullen’s lawyer has said Cullen believed that his victims were terminally ill and that it was dehumanizing to prolong people’s lives by artificial means.
Cullen mostly stared down at a desk in front of him during the 20-minute hearing, answering “Yes, your honor,” or “No, your honor” to a series of questions from the judge. He looked pale and gaunt, his hands folded in front of him.
Cullen said he gave the patients an injection of a heart drug called digoxin, knowing it would kill them.
Was depression the cause?
He gave no reason for his actions, and, as in previous court appearances, showed no emotion. But Detective Scott Lessig, who helped investigate the deaths, said Cullen told authorities he acted out of depression.
“A lot of it had to do with his mental health situation,” Lessig told reporters later. “He was going through depression, having a hard time.”
A court official, speaking on behalf of the victims’ families, said the families preferred not to comment on Cullen’s plea.
As part of an agreement with prosecutors, Cullen has cooperated with investigators in reviewing scores of suspicious deaths during his tenure at various hospitals to determine whether he had killed any other patients. He agreed to help authorities in exchange for a promise they would not seek the death penalty.
Admits killing at seven locations
Cullen has admitted killing patients at Somerset Medical Center in Somerville; Warren Hospital in Phillipsburg; St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston and Morristown Memorial Hospital, as well as facilities in Easton, Salisbury Township and Fountain Hills, Pa.
He was arrested in December 2003.
He was able to move from hospital to hospital, despite suspicions he was killing patients, because the institutions did not report their fears to authorities.
In one instance, Somerset Medical Center waited four months to notify authorities about its suspicions about Cullen, enabling him to kill five more patients there.
The hospital spoke with officials from the state's poison control center who bluntly warned them they had a serial killer on their hands, and urged the medical center to contact police.
Somerset said it believed the proper next step was to alert the state health department about possible laboratory irregularities regarding patient deaths there.