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article imageGerman prosecutors seek life in jail for serial killer nurse

By Sebastian BRONST with Frank ZELLER in Berlin (AFP)     May 16, 2019 in Crime

German prosecutors on Thursday sought life in prison for a male nurse accused of murdering almost 100 hospital patients, which would make him the country's worst peacetime serial killer.

Niels Hoegel, 42, already behind bars for over a decade after earlier trials, has confessed to giving scores more intensive-care patients drug overdoses because he enjoyed the thrill of trying to reanimate them at the last moment.

He stands accused of a revised toll of 97 murders, down from 100 as three cases could not be proved, prosecutor Daniela Schiereck-Bohlmann told the Lower Saxony state court in Oldenburg.

Some investigators, however, believe Hoegel may have killed hundreds more by injecting them with deadly drugs while he worked between 2000 and 2005 at clinics in Oldenburg and nearby Delmenhorst.

But because the deceased were buried or cremated long ago, autopsies have not been possible in all cases, and in some the post mortem examinations were inconclusive.

A lawyer for the bereaved families, Gaby Luebben, recalled that Hoegel had once said the victims' souls haunted his dreams, but that he couldn't remember their names.

"That's why I will now show them to you," said Luebben, who then used a beamer to show photos of the dead patients, each one honoured by a moment's silence in the courtroom.

- 'Resuscitation Rambo' -

During his trial since October, the heavy-set and bearded defendant has admitted to 43 killings, denied five and not ruled out more than 50 others, saying he could not remember.

Prosecutors require clarity on each death because "just calling him the worst serial killer in history isn't enough to convict him," said Schiereck-Bohlmann.

During his trial  which has been running since October  the heavy-set and bearded defendant has admi...
During his trial, which has been running since October, the heavy-set and bearded defendant has admitted to 43 killings, denied five and not ruled out more than 50 others, saying he could not remember
Hauke-Christian Dittrich, POOL/AFP

Prosecutors say Hoegel was motivated by vanity, the desire to show off his skills at saving human lives, and simple boredom.

Some colleagues had reportedly nicknamed him "Resuscitation Rambo".

A psychologist testified in court that Hoegel suffers from a narcissistic personality disorder but could be considered fully culpable for his crimes.

At the start of the trial, Hoegel apologised to the families of the victims aged between 34 and 96.

"If I knew a way that would help you, then I would take it, believe me," he said last year. "I am honestly sorry."

- 130 bodies exhumed -

Caught in 2005 while injecting an unprescribed medication into a patient in Delmenhorst, Hoegel was first sentenced in 2008 to seven years in prison for attempted murder.

A second trial followed under pressure from victims' families and he was found guilty in 2015 on charges of murder and attempted murder related to six deaths.

He was given the sentence of life imprisonment, which in Germany usually translates to a maximum of 15 years behind bars.

In requesting a second life term, prosecutors Thursday also urged the court to determine the "special severity" of the crimes to rule out an early release.

It was after his second trial that Hoegel confessed to his psychiatrist to dozens more murders at Delmenhorst, which prompted a far wider probe.

More than 130 bodies of patients who died on Hoegel's watch were exhumed in Germany, Poland and Turkey in a case investigators called "unprecedented in Germany".

- Troubling questions -

Aside from the monstrosity of the killing spree, the Hoegel case has raised deeply troubling questions about how the hospital hierarchies failed to stop him for so long.

Judge Sebastian Buehrmann has ordered perjury investigations against some of Hoegel's former co...
Judge Sebastian Buehrmann has ordered perjury investigations against some of Hoegel's former colleagues on suspicion they withheld evidence
Hauke-Christian Dittrich, POOL/AFP

Statistics later showed that patient deaths, as well as the use of certain cardiac drugs, soared while Hoegel was on duty.

Several doctors and head nurses were later charged with manslaughter for failing to stop the killer nurse.

In the current trial, presiding judge Sebastian Buehrmann has ordered perjury investigations against some of Hoegel's former colleagues on suspicion they withheld evidence to cover up their culpability.

When the Oldenburg hospital encouraged Hoegel to resign in late 2002, it offered him a glowing letter of reference to ensure he left.

Hoegel later testified he was never explicitly told why the hospital wanted him gone but that the request made him feel as though he "had been caught".

"Without the mistakes of some people in Oldenburg... this series of murders by Niels Hoegel could have been stopped," Christian Marbach, whose grandfather was one of the victims in Delmenhorst, told AFP last year.

The verdict and sentencing are scheduled for June 6.

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