SOMERVILLE, N.J. — A critical-care nurse told investigators he killed 30 to 40 patients over the last 16 years and quietly but firmly confessed Monday in a Somerset County courtroom, ignoring a judge's repeated requests to remain silent.
Charles Cullen, 43, who worked at hospitals in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, was charged with murder in the death of a Roman Catholic clergyman and with the attempted murder of a 40-year-old woman.
Authorities said their investigation is just starting, but it could become one of the biggest homicide cases ever in New Jersey.
Cullen tried to plead guilty numerous times Monday, but New Jersey Superior Court Judge Paul Armstrong said he was not prepared to accept a plea at an arraignment hearing and repeatedly advised Cullen to remain silent.
The judge urged Cullen to find an attorney or accept a public defender before making further statements.
Cullen, a slim, fit-looking man dressed in prison garb, spoke clearly and lucidly as he told Armstrong that he did not want a trial. He was held on $1-million bail.
"I don't want to contest the charges. I plead guilty," Cullen said. "I don't want to be represented. I don't intend to fight this."
Cullen, of Bethlehem, Pa., told investigators over the weekend that he committed the crimes by improperly medicating the victims to ease their pain and suffering, according to documents released by Somerset County Prosecutor Wayne Forrest.
"As you can imagine, this is by far the biggest homicide investigation undertaken by the Somerset County prosecutor's office, and maybe by any law enforcement agency in New Jersey," Forrest said at a news conference.
Forrest said charges in a third case are pending autopsy results.
Lehigh County Dist. Atty. James Martin called on Pennsylvania State Police to reopen a 2002 investigation related to several suspicious deaths while Cullen worked at St. Luke's Hospital in Fountain Hill.