GERMANY: A German nurse was sentenced to life imprisonment yesterday for killing 28 patients with lethal injections, making him the country's most prolific serial killer.
Stephan Letter (28) was found guilty on 12 cases of murder and 15 cases of manslaughter after he admitted injecting patients with a deadly combination of tranquilliser and muscle relaxant to end what he called their "senseless suffering".
The heavyset, bespectacled nurse was expressionless as the presiding judge in the Bavarian town of Kempten recommended a lifetime behind bars without parole.
Letter said he acted not out of malice but out of pity for his patients, many of whom suffered from degenerative muscular diseases. But state prosecutor Peter Koch said Letter acted "as if it were an assembly line", indiscriminately killing 80-year-olds suffering from dementia and relatively healthy 40-year-olds.
Letter began working at a clinic in the town of Sonthofen near the Bavarian Alps in January 2003. Two months later he killed his first patient, a 70-year-old nun admitted with breathing difficulties.
"How could a relationship of sympathy have been built up?" asked Judge Harry Rechner in his verdict. "He made the patient the object of his own imagination . . . this was a man who acted out of his own sense of emotional distress because he couldn't stand the patients' condition."
The series of killings came to light 18 months later, when the trail of missing medication from the ward's safe lead to Letter's apartment.
The nurse immediately confessed, but said he had no idea how many patients he had killed.
Investigators exhumed the bodies of 42 former patients and in 23 cases discovered medication in their remains that had not been prescribed during their hospital stay.
A further 38 patients who died mysteriously while the nurse worked at the hospital were cremated and cannot be examined.
Relatives of the victims had mixed feelings about the verdict.
"I can't say I feel any kind of satisfaction because for the rest of my life I will have to live with the certainty that my mother died an unnatural death," said Marlene Stache. Several relatives will appeal the verdict to have the manslaughter convictions upgraded to murder.
Letter's lawyer, Jürgen Fischer, said he would also appeal.