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Death Penalty Sought for Nurse in Patients' Deaths

May 16, 1999| From Reuters

BOSTON — A former Veterans Affairs nurse accused of killing four patients by giving them lethal injections could die by similar means after federal prosecutors said Friday they will seek the death penalty against her.

Kristen Gilbert, 31, a former nurse at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Northampton, Massachusetts, is charged with four counts of murder and three counts of attempted murder. In each case, Gilbert is accused of injecting patients with lethal or potentially lethal doses of the heart stimulant epinephrine.

"The four charged murders were especially cruel and heinous, involved substantial planning and premeditation, and were committed on particularly vulnerable victims," U.S. Attorney Donald Stern told reporters Friday.

"The patients were murdered in their hospital beds by a nurse who used her position and her specialized knowledge to commit the crimes," Stern said.

The indictment unsealed Friday superseded an earlier indictment in November 1998 charging Gilbert with three counts of murder. The decision to seek the death penalty was made by Atty. Gen. Janet Reno, Stern said.

If convicted and sentenced to death, Gilbert would be the only woman on federal death row. There are 20 men on federal death row, including Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

No federal prisoner has been executed since 1963. Only two women, including the spy Ethel Rosenberg in 1953, have ever been executed by federal civil authorities, the Justice Department said. The other woman to die was convicted kidnapper Bonnie Brown Heady in Missouri, also in 1953.

The federal government does not presently have an operational death chamber, although one capable of delivering a lethal injection was recently built in Terre Haute, Ind.

Gilbert is accused of injecting four patients with lethal doses of epinephrine in 1995 and 1996. She allegedly killed Henry Hudon, 35; Kenneth Cutting, 41; Edward Skwira, 69; and Stanley Jagodowski, 66. She is accused of trying to kill three other men by injecting them with epinephrine.

Gilbert is also charged with damaging the car of a police officer involved in the murder investigation. She has already served 15 months in prison on a previous conviction for threatening to blow up the VA Medical Center's intensive care unit while she knew she was under investigation.

Gilbert, who is being held in an undisclosed location, is scheduled to make an initial appearance in U.S. District Court in Springfield, Mass., on May 24, Stern said.

Her attorney, Harry Miles, declined to comment.

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