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"Angel of Death" trial opens in Lucerne

Police traced 12 suspicious deaths alone to this home for the elderly in Sarnen in central Switzerland Keystone Archive

A male nurse, dubbed the “Angel of Death”, went on trial on Friday in Lucerne charged with the murders of 24 patients, most of them elderly.

This content was published on January 20, 2005 - 18:24

The 36-year-old is alleged to have killed his victims in care homes across central Switzerland between 1995 and 2001.

The man, who was arrested in June 2001, is also charged with three attempted murders. Prosecutors are seeking a 17-year sentence.

Twenty-three of his alleged victims were women and four of them were men – all of them aged between 66 and 95.

Investigators have not been able to establish for certain whether the nurse was directly responsible for the deaths of three of the patients.

He is said to have either smothered his victims with a plastic bag or towel or given them an overdose of tranquillisers.

Arrest

His arrest came after several suspicious deaths were reported at a special unit for the senile in Lucerne, where he had worked for six months.

Following his arrest, investigators widened their probe to include other homes and hospitals where the man had worked. Five bodies were exhumed as part of the investigation.

Police traced 12 suspicious deaths to one home for the elderly in Sarnen in the central Swiss canton of Obwalden.

The accused told police that he had acted out of compassion. He has also complained that both he and his care team were overworked.

A psychiatric report found that the nurse was aware of his actions and was fit to stand trial.

Response

Ruedi Meier, director of social services in the city of Lucerne, told swissinfo that the monitoring of nursing and old people’s homes had been stepped up.

He said training had been improved, more staff taken on to reduce workloads and care guidelines revised.

“Staff here were shocked by what happened. They never thought a so-called ‘Angel of Death’ could be working in one of their homes,” he said.

“This has nothing to do with assisted suicide; this was murder,” added Meier.

Euthanasia debate

The trial in Lucerne is Switzerland’s biggest ever euthanasia case and comes at a time of widespread debate about the issue in Switzerland and abroad.

Active euthanasia is outlawed in Switzerland, but trained councillors are allowed to provide a patient with the means to end their life.

Recent studies show that Switzerland has the greatest number of cases of assisted suicide in Europe.

A report by Zurich University in 2003 found that seven out of ten terminally ill people in Switzerland had ended their lives through different types of euthanasia.

Last year the Swiss Academy of Medical Sciences told doctors they could help terminally ill patients to die, but only under certain circumstances.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

The 36-year-old nurse has been charged with 24 murders and three attempted murders.
The killings took place over a seven-year period.
He was arrested in June 2001.
He told police that he acted out of compassion for the patients.
A verdict is expected at the end of next week, but will only be made public on February 2.

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