Nurse is accused of six murders

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The Independent Online
Even among those trusted to care for the neediest and most vulnerable patients, Orville Lynn Majors stood out.

His bosses at Vermillion County Hospital, where he was a licenced practical nurse in the intensive care unit, praised his people skills. Paula Holdaway remembers him injecting something into her 80-year-old mother's intravenous tube and then leaning over the hospital bed, kissing Dorothea Hixon's forehead and brushing her hair back.

A minute later, Mrs Hixon was dead.

Majors was charged on Monday with murdering her and five others by injection at a hospital where deaths in the intensive care unit reached what prosecutors described as an "epidemic". They say that in the last half of 1994, patients were 43 times more likely to die on days when he was on duty.

Majors, 36, being held without bail, pleaded not guilty on Tuesday in Vermillion Circuit Court in Newport, about 15 miles north of Clinton where the hospital is located. Defence lawyer I. Marshall Pinkus has maintained that Majors is innocent, and said on Tuesday that evidence in a police affidavit doesn't change that. "If you really believed that Lynn was a murderer, how could you let him walk free in the community for three years?" Pinkus said.

Relatives of the dead were horrified by the deaths. "My husband wasn't sick enough to die," said Mildred Smith, who lost 74-year-old Cecil a day after he was admitted for pneumonia. "This was the last thing that I expected. I would like to put him to rest but I can't, not until he is convicted."

Increasing suspicions about Majors prompted hospital officials to study the number of deaths. Investigators spent nearly three years and $1.5m (pounds 926,000) investigating 130 intensive care deaths that happened while Majors was on duty from 1993 to 1995. The investigation included the exhumations of 15 patients, including the six people named in the affidavit - all of whom died from injections. Ranging in age from 56 to 89, all were said to be in stable condition before they died suddenly.

An autopsy revealed some of the deaths were consistent with the injection of potassium chloride, which can cause the heart to stop. It is the same drug used to kill some condemned prisoners. In two cases, police said, a witness saw Majors give a patient an injection just before the patients died. A nurse once saw Majors standing over a victim with syringe in hand, investigators said, and in another case Majors was the last person seen with the patient.

Nurses and housekeepers told police that Majors would refer to patients' families as "white trash" and "dirt", and said old people "should all be gassed".

The hospital suspended Majors in March 1995. The State Nursing Board revoked his licence for five years in 1995 for exceeding his authority by giving emergency drugs and working in an ICU without a registered nurse present.

John Rozsa, whose 61-year-old wife, Ethel, died unexpectedly after she went to the hospital with heart attack symptoms, said he wanted Majors convicted and sentenced to die.

"I want to see them sentence him to a lethal injection of potassium chloride," he said, "and give him a taste of his own medicine."