German nurse who killed patients jailed for life

Former nurse Niels H (L) hides his face behind a folder in court. Picture: Getty
Former nurse Niels H (L) hides his face behind a folder in court. Picture: Getty
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A GERMAN court has sentenced a nurse to life in jail for killing patients with overdoses of heart medication that he confessed to administering because he enjoyed trying to revive them.

The Oldenburg regional court found the 38-year-old guilty of two counts of murder, two counts of attempted murder and another of serious bodily harm, court spokesman Daniel Moennich said.

Prosecutors had accused the man, identified only as Niels H in line with German privacy rules, of three murders and two attempted murders during his time working at a clinic in the town of Delmenhorst.

“The court concluded that the accused used the heart medication to bring about a life-threatening situation in five cases, so as to make himself appear particularly competent when he revived them,” Mr Moennich said.

The defendant said during the trial that he intentionally brought about cardiac crises in some 90 patients because he enjoyed the feeling of being able to resuscitate them. He said 30 patients had died.

The court found that he bore a “particular severity of guilt.” That means that he won’t immediately have a chance of having his life sentence commuted to probation after 15 years, as is normal in Germany.

“These people were pawns in a game for you – in a game that only you could win and all the others could only lose,” presiding judge Sebastian Buehrmann told the defendant.

The case has shaken Germany, with many asking why someone would murder ill and vulnerable people and, moreover, in a place to which people entrust their loved ones.

According to court-appointed forensic psychiatrist Konstantin Karyofilis, Niels H was not mentally ill. He held the nurse completely culpable for his actions and believed the defendant repeatedly caused the emergencies to prove himself and show what he was capable of. As a “lifesaver”, Niels H was able to bask in praise and recognition.

“It was the clinical daily routine which failed to challenge me,” Niels H previously told the court, explaining that he would feel good for days after resuscitating a patient.

According to the president of the German nurses’ organisation, Christel Bienstein, more than 18 million people in hospitals and more than 2.4 million intensive care patients are treated in the country every year.

Ms Bienstein said that patient killings were not the result of “overwork” or “burnout” among medical staff but the work of people with very low self-esteem, as seen in the case of Niels H, who thrived on resuscitating patients and feeling like a hero.

The defendant was sentenced to seven years in prison in 2008 after he was discovered red-handed by a fellow nurse three years earlier. Even during the 2008 court case, there was concrete evidence that the convicted nurse could have killed several patients, but no further investigation ensued.

As a result, the Osnabruck Public Prosecutors Office has come under increased scrutiny, with scores of questions left unanswered. Deputy chief public prosecutor Thomas Sander has apologised to the families for “mishaps and delays” in the investigation, “which shouldn’t have been allowed to happen.”

“We now want to try and fully clear up Mr H’s actions,” Mr Sander said.