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20060221: Serial killer stayed in city WV Charleston Serial Killer News

It's not known how serial killer Tommy Lynn Sells, 41, now on death row in Texas, got to Charleston in the spring of 1992.

The inveterate drifter may have hitchhiked, hopped a freight train or stolen a car. That's how he'd been wandering the country since the age of 14.

By the time he arrived here, Sells is believed to have murdered 15 people, including five children.

A 19-year-old woman on the West Side narrowly missed becoming No. 16 in a bloody melee inside a Grove Avenue apartment.

Her name is Fabienne Witherspoon.

She is now a 33-year-old nurse and mother of three small children in Danville, Ill.

Nobody knows what attracted Sells to West Virginia. Diane Fanning, whose book "Through the Window" chronicles his gruesome crimes, said he liked mountains.

Witherspoon came here a few months before Sells in 1992. She was with her fiance, an Army man she'd met while living on an Air Force base with her parents in Tacoma, Wash.

Her fiance's parents lived in the Charleston area.

Born in 1972 in Lakinheath, England, Witherspoon grew up on Air Force bases around the world. She graduated from high school in Bremerhaven, Germany.

Witherspoon said she and her fiance planned eventually to settle down in the Charleston area.

When he left for training in Alabama, Witherspoon stayed behind with his family members.

Her fiance's mother, who worked for the state, suggested one day that Witherspoon might get a little privacy if she watched her boss's cat at a Grove Avenue apartment.

Witherspoon took her up on the offer.

She'd been staying at the Grove Avenue apartment for only a day on May 13, 1992, when she saw Sells panhandling in the Pennsylvania Avenue-Washington Street area.

Witherspoon had walked to a job interview with Clinique cosmetics that day and was excited about the prospect of working at Town Center.
"I WILL WORK FOR FOOD"


She also thought she might have been pregnant and had a test done at the health department on Lee Street. It turned out negative.

She was on the way back to Grove Avenue when she saw the killer with a crudely lettered sign. He had played on people's sympathies in the past. The sign was his way of getting close to potential victims.

"I will work for food," it said.

"I saw him under the underpass," Witherspoon said. "Of course, me being an Air Force brat, I'd never seen a homeless person. He didn't look scary. He looked approachable, like I felt sorry for him."

She asked him if he was hungry and if he had a family.

Sells whipped out a picture of three children and said he, the kids and his wife were all homeless and living under a bridge.

Witherspoon said the woman she was cat-sitting for had bought some junk food for her that she didn't want, so she figured she might as well give it to Sells.

The two of them started walking to Grove Avenue.

On the way, they stopped at a Go Mart. Witherspoon said she bought Sells a newspaper so he could scan the help-wanted ads.

"I'd always lived sort of a sheltered life," Witherspoon said. "I never thought anything bad could happen."

At the apartment, Witherspoon told Sells to wait outside while she went in and packed up the food. He asked if there was anyone else in the apartment. Witherspoon said no.

She figured he was thirsty, and took him a Coke. By the time she brought it to him, Sells was inside the front door.

"That made me nervous," she said. "I thought I just need to quickly get him on his way."
She asked Sells if he needed anything else. He said his wife needed underwear, which Witherspoon thought was strange, but she wanted him out of the apartment.

She walked to a bedroom and started taking underwear out of her suitcase.

Meantime, Sells locked the doors, got a steak knife, came into the bedroom, and told her to do what he said and she wouldn't get hurt.

He repeatedly raped her, and then took her into the shower to rape her again.

In the bathroom, she said, she surprised him by grabbing a ceramic duck about the size of a football and clubbing him on the head. By the time she was done swinging away, all that was left in her hand was a beak.

"And he was still standing," she said. "I thought, ‘He's a little bit confused ... I just have to fight.'''

She took the knife from her dazed assailant and began stabbing him over and over.

Witherspoon then raced frantically for the front door, but Sells caught her and threw her into a room off the hallway. She landed on the bed face down, cutting her hand open with the knife.

Sells took back the knife, tied Witherspoon's hands to her feet with tape, and held the knife to her throat.

Witherspoon said that if Sells would just leave, she wouldn't tell anybody. She also said she'd just found out she was pregnant and that her husband was going to be home very soon.

Witherspoon told police that Sells threatened to cut her voice box out so she couldn't talk.

Sells covered her head with a quilt and made what Witherspoon called a "wimpy" attempt at smothering her. Then he whacked her over the head with a piano stool and left.

As he was leaving, she remembers him saying, "I can't believe I am still alive."

"I thought, ‘Him? What about me?'" Witherspoon said.

The next thing she remembers is waking up on the front steps of the apartment. She was naked, bloody and screaming.
The police came. An ambulance took her to the hospital, where she had plastic surgery on her hand and stitches in her head. A rape counselor met with her later.

Sells, who had 18 stab wounds, spent seven days in the hospital.

Witherspoon recovered at her fiance's mother's house. She sat alone in a bedroom most of the time.

"RELIVING THE ATTACK IN HER MIND"

"I felt really stupid," she said. "Very embarrassed. I just wanted to hide."

Like many rape victims, she wound up feeling as if it was all her fault. She kept reliving the attack in her mind, thinking of things she should have done differently.

After a while, she went to live with her fiance Alabama and the two married. Witherspoon said they probably jumped into the marriage too quickly, believing perhaps it would help her overcome her problems.

Witherspoon said she felt no other man would want her.

The marriage fell apart after a little over a year.

After Sells' week in the hospital, he was taken to the county jail on Virginia Street.

In September 1992, a Kanawha grand jury indicted him on five counts of rape and felony assault.

Three days into the trial, on June 25, 1993, Sells pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of malicious wounding. The prosecution said it had become aware of inconsistencies in Witherspoon's testimony.

"It was his word against mine," Witherspoon said. "He said I attacked him. He tried to turn around and make it sound like I just started beating on him."

"They didn't give me a choice," she said of the prosecution's deal with Sells. "They just told me, ‘We're going to have to do this.'"

Former Prosecutor Bill Forbes said at the time, "While we believe her and her story, serious questions arose sufficient to warrant a plea."
Witherspoon said it was humiliating.

"I just felt like I was on display," she said. "Like people were just doubting the hell out of me."

After the trial, Witherspoon said she tried to block the attack out of her mind. Eventually, she found some success. After a while, she'd forgotten Sells' name.

"I didn't even think about it anymore," she said. "It was the weirdest thing."

Ten years after the attack, however, a TV program triggered a flood of horrible memories.

At the time Witherspoon was living in Oregon with her third husband and children.

Witherspoon said she was in the kitchen one night when she overheard the CBS newsmagazine "48 Hours" in the other room. The segment dealt with Sells, his brutal murder of a 13-year-old Texas girl, and his confessions to authorities about murders all over the country.

"I just had a breakdown," she said. "I just started crying. I wondered, ‘Why did I live when all these other people died?' "

Others who encountered Sells during his six weeks of freedom in the Kanawha Valley doubtless have reason to wonder as well.

After being released from a Wyoming prison in January 1991, Sells made his way to Colorado, Florida and Charleston, S.C., before arriving here sometime after April 2, 1992.

Records from his trial provide a glimpse of his stay here.

In early April, Sells met a 26-year-old woman at the Grand Palace, a gay bar on Brooks Street.

The woman brought Sells home with her to the Bigley Avenue apartment she shared with her 46-year-old mother and her mother's 42-year-old boyfriend.

Sells spent the night and left the next day.

About a week later, he returned when the mother's boyfriend was alone. He let Sells in and the two had a beer. They polished off what the man had and Sells went out and bought a 12-pack. The two drank all of that.
Sells wound up staying at the Bigley Avenue apartment for the next three-and-a-half weeks, spending his days panhandling on the streets and his nights carousing.

GOOD SAMARITAN CONTRACTOR

A local contractor who asked that his name not be used saw Sells standing on Clendenin Street with his sign: "I will work for food."

The contractor drove past him, all the way onto the interstate. Then his conscience took over. He pulled off at the next exit, drove back to Clendenin Street and gave Sells a break.

"I've never pulled a stunt like that," he said.

The man described Sells as polite and hard-working.

He took Sells to his home, where the killer spent four hours raking leaves, burning brush and mowing grass.

The man made Sells a sandwich for lunch.

"It's a worrisome thing," the man said. "I'm not easily fooled. I read people pretty well. But looking back on it ...

"I can't give you a good reason why I picked him up to begin with, other than I needed some yard work done and I thought the man could use a job."

The man's wife was at work and his two young children were at school while Sells worked in the yard. Sells told the man he was from Missouri.

"He was not in my house, not for 30 seconds," the man said.

The man gave Sells some clothes and money and drove him back downtown. He thanked Sells and went on his way. The man figures the Lord was watching over him that day.

About a week later, Sells phoned the man, said he was in jail and needed some clothes. The man took some clothes to the county jail on Virginia Street.

He said he accepted two more collect phone calls from Sells and then stopped, although Sells kept trying to contact him.
He still has a 6-inch stack of letters that Sells sent from jail. In several of the letters, Sells described being "saved." Sells also sent the man a signed copy of the Bible.

By early May, Sells had worn out his welcome at the Bigley Avenue apartment. The mother of the 26-year-old woman he'd met at the Grand Palace grew annoyed because of the strangers Sell brought home every night. She told him to leave.

Sells promptly moved in with the woman's 25-year-old daughter, who lived with her two small children in an apartment in Pinch.

That's where he was arrested after the attack on Witherspoon.

Melissa Robinson, a Charleston lawyer, defended Sells in 1992.

"I never felt threatened or like he was a dangerous person," Robinson said. "Tommy likes to talk. He would probably sit and talk to anybody who listens to him. He was always very friendly to me. Then again, I was also part of the team that was defending him."

Judge Tod Kaufman sentenced Sells to between two and 10 years in prison. He was given credit for 13 months served in jail.

He served part of his sentence at the Huttonsville Correctional Center and the rest at the Mount Olive Correctional Complex, which opened in 1994.

For a few months in 1995, both he and Dana December Smith, now 42, served time together.

Smith, of Logan, had been convicted of killing Margaret McClain, 63, and her daughter Pamela Castoneda, 36, at their Leewood home in 1991.

Prosecutors believe Sells and Smith could have discussed the murders, but Smith insists he never met Sells in prison.

In 2000, Sells told Texas Rangers that he -- not Smith -- killed the West Virginia women. That prompted Smith's lawyers to seek a new trial for him in Kanawha Circuit Court.

Last week, however, in an interview with a reporter from the Del Rio (Tex.) News-Herald, Sells recanted his confession.

While imprisoned in West Virginia, Sells got engaged to a Rand woman who had three children. She broke up with him, and he later married another woman.

In May 1997, he was released. Sells and his bride left West Virginia for Tennessee.
Sells has said that in November of that year, he killed 13-year-old Stephanie Mahaney of Springfield, Mo. Authorities found her body in a pond.

Sells was selling used cars in Del Rio when he committed the crime that put him on Death Row.

On New Year's Eve, 1999, he crept into 13-year-old Kaylene Harris' bedroom, sexually assaulted her, slit her throat, and slashed the throat of a 10-year-old friend of Kaylene's who was spending the night. Kaylene died.

Sells also has confessed to killing an Illinois family on Nov. 18, 1987. It was an especially heinous crime.

Sells said he met Keith Dardeen in a truck stop in Ina, Ill. Dardeen felt sorry for Sells and took him home. Sells said he shot and killed Dardeen and raped his pregnant wife, Ruby Elaine. He said he then beat the woman and her 3-year-old son to death with a baseball bat.

Born in Oakland, Calif., Sells reportedly began drinking his grandfather's liquor at the age of 7. He was molested when he was 8, and started smoking marijuana when he was 10.

He claims that at 13, he tried to rape his mother and that his family moved out of their mobile home without telling him.

At 14, he hit the road, and says he killed for the first time in Mississippi in 1979 when he was 15.

 

20060206: Execution date to be set for serial killer Sells TX San Antonio Serial Killer News

A judge is expected to set an execution date for convicted serial killer Tommy Lynn Sells.

Sells was arrested Jan. 2, 2000, and confessed to at least a dozen murders in seven states, according to authorities.

Sells was convicted of the rape and murder of 13-year-old Kayleen Harris in Del Rio in December 1999. He tried to do the same to her 10-year-old friend.

He was found guilty in September 2000.

Sells would eventually confess to at least a dozen other murders, including the death of Mary Bea Perez of San Antonio in April 1999.

Perez was kidnapped from Market Square on April 18, 1999, during Fiesta, and a fisherman found her badly-decomposed body in Alazan Creek a week after she vanished. By the time Sells had confessed to killing the 9-year-old San Antonio girl, he was already on death row.

One of Sells' most heinous crimes is the murder of a family in Illinois. The family of four had befriended him, and offered Sells a meal. Authorities said he shot the father, then beat a 3-year-old boy and his pregnant mother with a bat. Investigators said the woman gave birth during the beating, and Sells beat the baby girl as well.

Sells' hearing is at 1:30 p.m. Monday.

 

20051016: Serial killer casts new light on death of boy IL Lawrenceville Serial Killer News

"I followed the woman from the convenience store, to a driveway she pulled into. And I hung around several hours, till it come wee hours of the morning. Then I went into this house . . . I go to the first bedroom I see . . . I don't know whose room it is and, and, and, and I start stabbing."

So begins an 86-page transcript of serial killer and former St. Louis resident Tommy Lynn Sells, as interviewed two years ago in a Texas prison by an Illinois prosecutor. He was there to investigate Sells' claim to the stabbing death in 1997 of Joel Kirkpatrick, 10, in Lawrenceville, Ill.

Joel's mother, Julie Rea Harper, had been convicted of the killing - despite her story, from the beginning, that a masked intruder stabbed her son in his bed, struggled with her and disappeared.

Harper's conviction was overturned last year on a technicality. Her new trial is set for July, freshly opening an old wound in Lawrenceville, a small downstate town near the Indiana border. A judge has moved the trial to Carlyle, in Clinton County, to avoid local publicity.

After months of wrangling this year between the prosecution and defense, the transcripts of Sells' jailhouse statements will be allowed in as evidence for the defense.

That may turn out to be a mixed victory for Harper.

A Post-Dispatch review of the transcripts and other documents found clear similarities between Harper's initial story from 1997 and Sells' statements in 2003. They include a generally consistent account from Sells about the mother's and son's movements the night of the killing; a similar sequence of events in describing a stabbing in the dark bedroom and a struggle with a woman; and even an accurate description of the socioeconomic look of the neighborhood where Harper lived.

But the Sells transcripts also are inconsistent with Harper's story. Most notable is Sells' insistence that he wasn't wearing a mask, a key element of Harper's story. There is also Sells' matter-of-fact admission that part of the reason he agreed to talk to Illinois officials is to get out of the clutches of what he calls a "15th-century" Texas legal system.

Complicating matters is that, at times in the interview, Sells himself - who has claimed to have killed as many as 70 people over the past 20 years - admits he is unsure whether Joel was among them:

Uh, you all haven't asked this, but I will go ahead and tell you this. Do I think I'm the one that killed this kid? Yes . . . Uh, if it wasn't this kid I killed, then there's a murder out there that, that we still ain't undug yet."

Sells, 41, lived in St. Louis in the 1990s. He is on death row in Texas for the fatal stabbing of a 13-year-old girl in 1999. He has confessed to numerous other murders, including the slaying in 1987 of a family of four in Ina, Ill., about 75 miles southeast of Lawrenceville. A grand jury in Springfield, Mo., indicted him two years ago in the slaying in 1997 of 13-year-old Stephanie Mahaney - a stabbing that took place two days after Joel was fatally stabbed in Illinois.

Children have been Sells' primary targets. He ended up on death row in Texas because yet another child, a 10-year-old girl, survived a slashed throat to testify against him.

Sells' suspected murders also have had a common thread of being committed with weapons he found in the homes of his victims - knives, and a baseball bat in one case - and of having no apparent motive.

Sells himself, in the transcripts, appears to ponder the senselessness of his crimes:

"My life don't make a lot of sense . . . . It don't make sense that I go around the country killing people. Period. It don't make sense doing that."



The crucial question

That senselessness fits the story Harper has been telling since the night Joel was murdered, her supporters claim. They note that the most damning argument in her first trial - that it's unlikely a man would break into a house and murder a child for no reason - is exactly what Sells is known to have done or is suspected to have done in other cases.

"She was convicted on the strength of a single question: Who comes into a home, takes a knife from the home, stabs a child, and leaves an adult alive?" Harper defense attorney Ronald Safer argued in a written motion this year.

In the transcripts, Sells - who admits he was on drugs and has jumbled memories - says he had a minor altercation with a woman and her son at a convenience store that day. In anger, he says, he followed them home, and waited until after dark:

"I went in and, and, and I don't know if it was her room, don't know if it was his room, I don't, I just knew I wanted to go in there and, and hurt someone."

Prosecutors are still convinced that Harper, now 36, killed her son in the wake of a bitter custody dispute with her ex-husband. They fought to prevent a jury from seeing Sells' disjointed, sometimes chilling transcripts, arguing it's a false confession designed to delay his execution in Texas. The prosecution notes that Sells states several times that he's unsure he committed the murder.

Sells' "ramblings" aren't "a valid confession" and "are inconsistent with the known, provable facts of the crime scene," special prosecutor Ed Parkinson of the Illinois Appellate Prosecutor's Office wrote in a motion this year.

Hamilton County Circuit Judge Barry Vaughan ruled in March that he would admit the transcripts, despite reservations. Vaughan notes that Sells has claimed to have killed 40 to 70 people, and "it is difficult to determine whether he is recalling this crime or some of the other 40 to 70."

That possibility arises in unsettling ways in Sells' interview with Illinois officials. At one point, he is discussing whether the house he entered had columns outside the door:

"I remember seeing columns . . . at the front. Not one-hundred-percent sure, though . . . I know at some point I killed someone with columns on the front of the door."

Though hesitant to allow what might be "a false confession," Vaughan said he would leave it to a jury to decide how much weight to give the transcripts.

That could be challenging. Sells' account contains many statements that could be interpreted as either major factual inconsistencies or minor memory glitches.

For example, Harper told authorities she'd been out with her son at a McDonald's that evening, not at a convenience store, as Sells states. Sells also claims to have gotten from St. Louis to Lawrenceville by traveling Interstate 55, which is impossible. He describes a house in the middle of the block; Harper's was on a corner.

Harper, who was a 28-year-old Indiana University graduate student in education psychology at the time of her son's killing, was initially convicted in 2002. She was sentenced to 65 years in prison, but the 5th District Court of Appeals ordered a new trial last year, based on a dispute over the role of the special prosecutor in the first trial.

Harper could not be reached for comment and has previously declined interviews on the advice of her attorneys. She remains free on a $750,000 bond pending her second trial, scheduled to start July 10. She is living in DeKalb, Ill., with her current husband, Mark Harper, a Northern Illinois University law student.

 

20050311: Judge Clears Serial Killer Testimony in Harper Case IL Serial Killer News

A victory for the defense in the Julie Rea Harper murder case.

Lawrence County, Illinois judge Barry Vaughn granted a motion to allow a confession made by serial killer Tommy Lynn Sells as evidence in the case.

Harper is being re-tried in the murder of her ten-year-old son, Joel. The defense claims an intruder killed Joel and that intruder was Sells based on his Texas death row confession.

Harper's re-trial is set for December 5th.

 

20050224: Judge considers serial killer's confession IL Lawrenceville Serial Killer News
A judge will decide by March 11 whether to let the jury in the case against Julie Rea Harper hear a reported confession by a condemned serial killer.

Harper has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder for the Oct. 13, 1997, stabbing death of her 10-year-old son, Joel Kirkpatrick of Charleston, at her Lawrenceville home while he was visiting her for the weekend. She was convicted of identical charges for the boy's death in 2002, but that conviction was overturned on a technicality.

During a hearing Wednesday, attorneys for both sides of the case argued over whether or not to allow a confession by Tommy Lynn Sells into court during the trial. Sells reportedly confessed to killing Joel to author Diane Fanning, with whom he was corresponding. Fanning included the confession in the biography of Sells she wrote titled "Through the Window."

Ron Safer, a member of the defense team, said the prosecution asked during closing arguments of Harper's first trial: "Who enters a house for murder and then uses a knife in the house?"

"The answer to that question has been provided," Safer said. "The answer is Tommy Lynn Sells."

Sells' confession and details about the crime scene he was subsequently able to provide are corroborated by Harper's statement immediately after Joel died, Safer said.

Safer also noted that a bus ticket clerk from Princeton, Ind., called police on Oct. 16, 1997, saying a person matching Harper's description of the killer (a police composite sketch of that person was widely circulated) had bought a Greyhound bus ticket to Winnemucca, Nev., a place Sells lived for a while. That bus route also went through Springfield, Mo., where Sells murdered a teenage girl.

"That's compelling evidence," Safer said. "This is not a close call. (Admitting the confession) is not a difficult decision. What kind of justice system would we have if we didn't allow the jury to hear this serial killer's confession?"

But Ed Parkinson, the special prosecutor handling the case, said it would be unfair for the court to admit the confession.

"I don't believe it would be fair to the state of Illinois or Joel Kirkpatrick to allow this confession to be allowed in," he said.

Parkinson said Sells' statements are inconsistent with things he's said and inconsistent with some details of the case. For instance, he pointed out that Sells described the house where the murder took place as being a two-story or like a two- story with white columns.

"It's not a two-story. It's flat," Parkinson said. "There are no columns."

Parkinson also alleged that some of the information Sells stated came from a Web site maintained by friends and family of Harper, called http://www.justiceforjulieandjoel.org.

"This guy, Tommy Lynn Sells, is on death row, a condemned man, in Texas, a state where they actually carry out the death penalty," Parkinson said. "Can we really lose sight of the fact this man is on death row and says he got a lot of information off Julie Rea's Web site?"

After the hearing, Parkinson said Sells' confession should be "viewed with suspicion," but that even if it is admitted into evidence, he is confident in the state's case.

"I'm very satisfied with the strength of the state's case," he said. "I wouldn't be prosecuting a person I didn't think was the right person."

Safer and the rest of the defense team declined comment, saying the "case will be tried in court."

Also during the hearing, Judge Barry Vaughan denied Harper's motion to be declared indigent. She had asked for the declaration to avoid paying fees associated with the trial, such as fees for expert witnesses. Her attorneys, from the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law and the Chicago law firm of Schiff Hardin LLC, are working the case at no charge.

Vaughan said he could not declare Harper indigent because of her ability to raise money, as evidenced by money raised to pay her $75,000 cash bond to free her from jail. He also mentioned the fact that she is a graduate student at Indiana University and her husband, Mark Harper, is a third-year law student.

Had Harper been declared indigent, Lawrence County would have had to pay the fees associated with her case.

A trial in the case has been set for Dec. 5., and Parkinson estimated the trial could last as long as four weeks. The next pre-trial hearing will be April 8.

 

20040930: Serial killer stabbed son, mother contends IL Lawrenceville Serial Killer News
Lawyers for a former Indiana University graduate student charged with stabbing her son to death seven years ago say they can prove a serial killer did it...Lawyers for Julie Rea-Harper were in Lawrence County Circuit Court on Wednesday for her preliminary hearing on first-degree murder charges in the bloody stabbing death of 10-year-old Joel Kirkpatrick in 1997...Harper, 35, remarried and living in DeKalb County, entered a plea of not guilty after Judge Barry Vaughn found there was enough evidence to support the charges. She is free on $750,000 bond...Harper was convicted in 2002 of stabbing her son while he slept in his bed in her Lawrenceville home. Prosecutors said she did it to get back at her former husband, who had just won custody of the boy...Harper has always maintained an intruder attacked her son, wrestled with her and then fled...An Illinois appellate court overturned her conviction in June on a legal fine point. The court ruled the special prosecutor who tried the case did not have the statutory authority to do so...Lawrence County State’s Attorney Todd Reitz refiled murder charges...On Wednesday, Harper’s lawyer, Jeffrey Urdangen, told Vaughn the defense can prove convicted serial killer Tommy Lynn Sells was in Lawrenceville the night of the killing and stabbed the boy himself...The defense has been promoting Sells as the real killer ever since Sells confessed to the murder in a book published last year.. .
 

20040916: Texas Serial Killer To Appear On Montel Williams Show TX Serial Killer News
A notorious Texas serial killer who has ties to San Antonio, speaks out on national television, from death row. .."To me it's been a lifetime of slitting someone's throat, banging someone in the head, squeezing their neck till they can't breathe. It's no more than peeling an orange or a tomato," said Tommy Lynn Sells. ..Sells will appear on the Montel Williams show Thursday on News 4 WOAI. ..He's on death row for the murder of Kaylene Harris of Del Rio. .."I'm a sick person. I'm not proud of that, but that's who I am," said Sells. ..He's admitted to some 50 murders, including the killing of Mary Bea Perez, who disappeared during Fiesta in 1999.
 

20040404: Death row inmate confessed to killing an upstate New York woman Niagara Falls Serial Killer News
A serial killer on death row in Texas told police he killed a New York woman nearly three decades ago.
Police said Tommy Lynn SELLS provided details that matched the mysterious murder of 27-year-old Suzanne KORCZ.
KORCZ disappeared in May 1987 after an argument with her fiance at a bar in Niagara Falls. The fiance told police the woman wandered off.
Eight years later, her skeletal remains were discovered in a field, about two miles from the bar.
Lockport Detective Rick Podgers said he wants to interview SELLS for more information.
The detective said SELLS may be looking for attention but police are taking his claim seriously because he has information that would be difficult to obtain in prison.
 

20060830: Serial Killer Nurse Donates Kidney To Ex-Girlfriend's Brother NJ Newark Serial Killer News
A serial killer nurse who admitted killing 29 patients donates one of his kidneys to the brother of an ex-girlfriend. Charles Cullen had threatened to skip his sentencing hearing if he was not permitted to be the donor. In February, a judge approved Cullen's removal from prison for the operation. Cullen's public defender, Johnnie Mask, says the kidney went to Ernie Peckham, 37, of Rocky Point, New York. Mask tells The Associated Press, "They have not had a chance to speak" since the operations on Aug. 20. One day after surgery, Cullen went back to New Jersey State Prison. Peckham did not return to his Long Island home for a few days. The New York Daily News reports Peckham is married with four children. He is a metalworker and Cub Scout leader who was an Army reservist. Peckham told The Village Beacon Record that his kidneys began failing after a cut on his finger became a strep infection. Cullen confessed to using drug overdoses to kill 29 patients at nursing homes and hospitals in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. He was sentenced to 18 life terms in prison.
 

20060822: Serial Killer Back in Prison after Surgery PA Allentown Serial Killer News
Serial killer Charles Cullen is back in prison tonight, recovering from his recent kidney donation. Cullen had the surgery on Saturday. The kidney went to a relative of one of Cullen's friends. Last year, Cullen said he would skip his sentencing unless he was allowed to donate. A judge agreed to allow the transplant and Cullen appeared before the victims' families. He's serving 18 consecutive life sentences in solitary confinement at the New Jersey State Prison in Trenton.
 

20060321: Serial Killer Nurse May Donate A Kidney NJ Newark Serial Killer News
A judge clears the way for New Jersey's worst serial killer to donate a kidney. If Charles Cullen and his doctors meet certain conditions, he may undergo an operation to remove one of his kidneys. The Associated Press reports the organ would then go to the relative of a friend. Cullen admitted to killing 29 patients in nursing homes and hospitals throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Prosecutors agreed to spare him from the death penalty if he identified patients who had been given lethal drug overdoses. The judge ordered that the operation must be paid for by the recipient's insurance company. The state's medical examiners must also certify the doctors prior to the procedure.
 

20060320: Judge allows serial killer to donate kidney NJ Newark Serial Killer News

A United States judge has agreed to allow New Jersey's worst serial killer to donate a kidney, but the killer and his doctors have to meet conditions.

Judge Paul Armstrong did not say when Charles Cullen might undergo the operation to remove one of his kidneys to be transplanted into the relative of a friend.

Cullen has admitted killing 29 patients with drug overdoses at nursing homes and hospitals in Pennsylvania and New Jersey in one of the worst murder sprees ever discovered in the US health care system. He has been sentenced to 18 life terms.

The judge's order, signed on Thursday, stipulates that all operation costs must be paid by the recipient's insurer.
 
Also, the surgery to remove Cullen's kidney must happen in New Jersey at a hospital certified by the state Department of Corrections, and the doctors who perform the operation must be certified by the state Board of Medical Examiners.

Cullen, 46, had tried for four months to reach an agreement with prosecutors to win permission for the donation.

His lawyer, Johnnie Mask, said the requirements made him "suspicious that someone in the Department of Corrections or at the attorney-general's office does not want this to happen".

New Jersey Attorney General's Office spokesman John Hagerty said the requirements reflect the fact that they are for "a serial killer who is not free to travel willy-nilly".

Cullen claimed to have killed 40 patients over a 16-year nursing career, and has said he killed out of mercy. Not all of his victims, however, were old or very sick.

 

20060311: Over Killer's Loud Objections, He Gets 6 More Life Terms PA Allentown Serial Killer News
Charles Cullen, a former nurse who committed one of the worst murder sprees in the United States health care system, was gagged with a cloth and duct tape at a sentencing hearing Friday after he began loudly repeating, "Your honor, you need to step down." Mr. Cullen had maintained almost complete silence every time he appeared in court, steadfastly refusing to explain why he killed at least 29 patients in two states. During an emotional sentencing hearing last week in New Jersey, he sat quietly with his eyes closed as victims' families said he was a monster and called him "garbage." But on Friday, facing another round of sentencing, this time for his murders in Pennsylvania, he infuriated the relatives of some of his victims by repeating his bizarre chant hundreds of times over 30 minutes, during which attempts to muffle him proved unsuccessful. "I feel very cheated," said Walter Henne, a relative who showed up in court to address Mr. Cullen and had to raise his voice to be heard over him. "Our last trump card was taken away from us by the childish behavior of Mr. Cullen." A judge ignored Cullen's outbursts and gave him six more life sentences. Mr. Cullen, who was sentenced last week to 11 consecutive life terms in New Jersey, administered lethal overdoses to seven patients in Pennsylvania, and tried to kill three others. Mr. Cullen had tried to avoid showing up at his sentencing hearings in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. On Friday, he told President Judge William Platt of Lehigh County that he was upset that the judge had said in a newspaper article that he was inclined to make Mr. Cullen show up at sentencing. Mr. Cullen then began repeating the statement and refused to stop. Sheriff's deputies wrapped a white cloth around Cullen's mouth, but that did little to muffle him. They added two pieces of duct tape and tried repeatedly to tighten the gag, but Mr. Cullen still managed to drown out some of the relatives and friends who were there to tell him the impact the murders had had on their lives. "We think you are a total waste of human flesh," Mr. Henne told Mr. Cullen on behalf of the family of his mother-in-law, Irene Krapf. It was not clear whether Mr. Cullen heard a word he said.
 

20060310: NJ serial killer to be sentenced in Pennsylvania PA Allentown Serial Killer News
A week ago, a former nurse who killed at least 29 patients was sent to prison for the rest of his life and confronted by his victims' relatives in New Jersey. On Friday, Charles Cullen was set to sentenced in Pennsylvania, where he was expected to again face relatives of patients he killed. Cullen, 46, pleaded guilty to 29 murders and six attempted murders in both states. He escaped the death penalty after agreeing to help prosecutors in seven counties identify patients to whom he had given lethal drug overdoses. He will serve his sentence in New Jersey. Cullen administered overdoses to seven patients at nursing homes and hospitals in Lehigh and Northampton counties, and tried to kill three others in one of the worst murder sprees ever discovered in the U.S. health care system. Cullen was to be sentenced Friday in Northampton County for the 1998 murder of 78-year-old Ottomar Schramm at Easton Hospital. Although he does not have to be present at that hearing, he has been ordered to attend his sentencing a few hours later in Allentown in Lehigh County, where he was expected to again come face-to-face with his victims' families. Last week, relatives of the 22 New Jersey victims confronted Cullen after he received 11 consecutive life terms, calling him a "monster" and "vermin." Cullen said nothing, his eyes closed. Cullen, who claims to have slain 40 patients over a 16-year nursing career, has said he killed out of mercy. Many of his victims were old and very sick. But the judge who sentenced Cullen in New Jersey told him he "betrayed the ancient foundations of the healing professions." Cullen was arrested in December 2003 after Somerset Medical Center in Somerville, N.J., notified prosecutors about questionable lab results involving patients under his care. The case prompted lawmakers in both states to pass legislation protecting hospitals and nursing homes from legal action when reporting disciplinary actions taken against employees.
 

20060304: How can a serial killer escape the death penalty? NJ Somerville Serial Killer News

A MALE nurse who admits killing up to forty patients with lethal injections has been spared a similar fate through an extraordinary plea bargain in which he pledged to help to identify his victims.

Charles Cullen, 46, a loner with a history of depression and suicide attempts, will escape the death penalty in return for pleading guilty to at least twenty-nine murders and co-operating with investigators looking into other suspicious deaths.

Cullen says that he poisoned up to forty people with hard to-detect medications — usually the heart drug digoxin — during a 16-year career working night shifts at ten nursing homes and hospitals in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

He has told authorities, however, that he cannot remember the names of four of his victims and that he randomly injected insulin into intravenous medical bags without knowing which patient they were for.

Prosecutors in all seven counties where he worked have agreed to spare his life in return for his help in identifying all those he killed.

As the families of victims harangued him as a “monster”, “one pathetic little man”, and “Satan’s son”, Cullen was sentenced on Thursday to 11 consecutive life terms for 22 murders and 3 attempted murders in Somerset County, New Jersey. That meant that it would be 397 years before he became eligible for parole.

He is due to be sentenced next Friday for seven more murders and three attempted murders in Pennsylvania.

Investigations remain open in two other New Jersey counties, complicated by the destruction of medical records and the uncertainty of Cullen’s memory.

Cullen is one of the worst serial killers discovered inside America’s health-care system, but he is not alone. Since 1975 there have been about twenty cases of medical personnel involved in the deaths of patients, including a notorious 1987 case in which Donald Harvey, a nurse, was sentenced to life in prison for killing at least thirty-four patients in Ohio and Kentucky.

Cullen was fired from five nursing jobs and resigned from two others amid questions about his conduct but he always found another job, partly because hospitals kept quiet to avoid being sued.

He went on a murder spree in December 2003, killing 13 patients in less than a year at the Somerset Medical Centre in New Jersey. He was caught when hospital officials discovered unusually high levels of digoxin in the victims.

He told police after his arrest that he had targeted “very sick” patients for what he described as mercy killings.

The facts contradicted his claim. His youngest victim was a 21-year-old student named Michael Strenko, who had been admitted to hospital for a non-fatal blood disorder that required doctors to remove his spleen.

Cullen also killed a 22-year-old car crash victim, Matthew Mattern, who was in hospital with severe burns.

 

20060303: Serial killer nurse gets 11 life terms for killing patients NJ Somerville Serial Killer News
 

A nurse who killed at least 29 patients was sent to prison for the rest of his life Thursday after his victims' loved ones angrily branded him ''vermin,'' ''garbage'' and a ''monster'' who ruined lives and shattered their faith in the medical profession.

Charles Cullen escaped the death penalty after making a deal with prosecutors to tell them which patients he killed with hard-to-detect drug injections.

Cullen, 46, pleaded guilty to murdering 22 people in New Jersey and trying to kill three others. He will be sentenced later for seven murders and three attempted murders in Pennsylvania. He has claimed to have killed up to 40 people during a career that spanned 16 years and 10 nursing homes and hospitals.

He received 11 consecutive life terms at a tense hearing in which he came face-to-face with his victims' families for the first time. Wearing a bulletproof vest under his sweater, Cullen sat quietly as relatives wept and yelled at him from a lectern about 15 feet away. Some said they wished Cullen could die as his victims did, by lethal injection.

''I want you to die tomorrow so that you can meet God tomorrow because guess what? There ain't no door out of hell, baby,'' said Debra Yetter Medina, the granddaughter of victim Mary Natoli.

 

20060302: Killer nurse gets 11 life sentences NJ Somerville Serial Killer News
On the day New Jersey's most prolific serial killer received 11 consecutive life sentences, family members of his victims gave the former nurse a verbal lashing in court.

Some had waited years, and defendant Charles Cullen had filed court papers trying to avoid the confrontation.

One by one, for nearly four hours, two dozen relatives of the dead told a New Jersey judge what Cullen had taken from them.

Some called Cullen names -- "Satan's son" or "monster" -- and told him to "burn in hell." Others simply remembered their lost loved ones.

Judge Paul W. Armstrong then handed down 11 consecutive life sentences. Parole is out of the question, since Cullen, 46, will not be eligible until he has served 397 years.

Cullen has pleaded guilty to committing 22 murders in New Jersey and seven in Pennsylvania. He also admitted attempting to murder six people.

Deaths not mercy killings

Cullen administered lethal doses of medication to patients under his care in nursing homes and medical facilities. He claimed at one point that he was an angel of mercy trying to end his patients' suffering.

But the judge rejected that notion. He said the court "would not countenance the characterization of these crimes as acts of human compassion."

Cullen said nothing during the hearing, sitting beside his attorney with his hands in his lap and his eyes lowered. His lack of visible emotion seemed to enrage some relatives of his victims.

They had plenty to say.

Dolores Stasienko called Cullen a monster for killing her father, Jack Toto, whom she described as a hard-working farmer, mechanic and war veteran.

"Burn in hell, Mr. Cullen, for all eternity," she said.

"Am I boring you?" asked Deborah Yetter-Medina, whose grandmother was killed. "Look at me," she demanded.

"Yes, I was the woman who coined the phrase 'Satan's son,'" she said. "You are Satan's son." Later, she told Cullen: "There ain't no doors out of hell, babe."

Richard Stoecker, whose mother, Eleanor, also was a victim, told Cullen: "Maybe you thought you could play God that day by injecting her, but she planned on living, she was a fighter."

As many as 40 victims

As part of his plea agreement, Cullen has been working with law enforcement officials to identify additional victims. He originally told authorities he killed up to 40 patients during the course of his 16-year nursing career.

Last month, when a deal to allow Cullen to donate a kidney to a friend fell through, he filed court papers seeking to waive his appearance at sentencing. (Full story)

The move outraged victim family members, some of whom have said addressing Cullen is an important part of their grieving process.

"He has to hear that we're human beings and that our father, son, mother, whoever, were human beings," said John Shanagher, whose father, Jack, was killed by Cullen. "Hopefully it will give us some sense of justice that it's, after all this time, finally done."

The judge ruled Cullen had to be present for victim impact statments and sentencing. Cullen will be allowed to donate his kidney now that he has been sentenced.

 

20060224: Serial killer must face victims' kin NJ Somerville Serial Killer News

Judge rules that killer nurse can't skip sentencing hearing

Serial killer Charles Cullen must listen to statements by relatives of his victims when he is sentenced for 22 murders, a New Jersey judge ruled Friday.

Cullen, a former nurse, had asked the court to waive his appearance at the sentencing March 2.

The move outraged victims' family members, some of whom said addressing Cullen is an important part of their grieving process.

"He has to hear that we're human beings and that our father, son, mother, whoever, were human beings," said John Shanagher, whose father, Jack, was killed by Cullen.

"Hopefully it will give us some sense of justice that it's, after all this time, finally done," he added.

Superior Court Judge Paul W. Armstrong also ruled Friday that Cullen will be allowed to donate a kidney to a friend after he is sentenced.

Where the organ will be harvested remains an issue. Cullen wants to have the operation performed in New York. New Jersey officials say it must be done in that state.

Cullen has pleaded guilty to murdering 29 hospital patients in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and attempting to murder six others, with drug injections.

As part of his plea agreement, he has been working with law enforcement officials to identify additional victims. He originally told authorities he had killed up to 40 patients in the course of his 16-year nursing career.

Armstrong ruled Friday that Cullen "possesses no fundamental right" by law to be absent from his sentencing, when the court will hear statements by the victims' families.

Cullen had withdrawn his request, but the judge went ahead with a ruling to prevent Cullen from changing his mind later.

 

20060217: Again, a Serial Killer Plans to Skip His Own Sentencing NJ PA Serial Killer News

A carefully constructed deal between the authorities and the convicted serial killer Charles Cullen to allow him to donate a kidney to a friend in exchange for showing up at his own sentencing has fallen apart, his lawyer said yesterday.

The authorities had hoped this month to sentence Mr. Cullen, a former nurse who has confessed to murdering up to 40 patients in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Many relatives of his victims have been waiting for the day they can face him in court.

But that day, once again, seems far off. At a meeting yesterday, New Jersey authorities and Mr. Cullen's lawyer could not agree on the specifics of the kidney donation, and Mr. Cullen will now fight to skip his sentencing, his lawyer, Johnnie Mask, said.

"There is no deal now," Mr. Mask said. "We're nowhere."

Under New Jersey legal procedures, defendants can apply to skip their sentencing. Mr. Cullen initially indicated he would do this, provoking the ire of prosecutors and relatives of his victims.

But in December, Peter C. Harvey, then New Jersey's attorney general, announced that he had worked out a plan in which Mr. Cullen could donate his kidney if he agreed to come to his sentencing first. A memorandum of understanding was signed, and a transplant team at Stony Brook University Hospital on Long Island, where Mr. Cullen's friend is a patient, agreed to do the surgery.

But Mr. Harvey left office in January, after New Jersey's new governor, Jon S. Corzine was sworn in. Officials at the attorney general's office and in the Corrections Department have now decided that Mr. Cullen cannot leave the state for the kidney operation because New Jersey officials do not have the authority to provide security in New York.

Mr. Mask said that prosecutors had yet to come up with a viable plan for the operation to be done in New Jersey. Until they do, Mr. Cullen will do everything in his power, including filing numerous appeals, to avoid his sentencing, he said.

"We're not going to give up what little leverage we have until we know this kidney operation is going to happen," Mr. Mask said. State officials, he said, "have been throwing up roadblocks ever since Harvey left."

John Hagerty, a spokesman at the attorney general's office, said that Mr. Cullen's sentencing has been scheduled for March 2 but that there are issues that could delay that. A presentencing hearing has been set for next week.

Mr. Hagerty said state officials "continue to work with local prosecutors so the sentencing can proceed."

 

20060113: Serial Killer Using Loophole That Delays His Sentencing NJ Newark Serial Killer News

First, he wrangled a way to avoid the death penalty, even though he confessed to murdering up to 40 people. Then, he tried to dictate the terms of his final court appearance. Now, he is refusing to cooperate.

Apparently, Charles Cullen, a New Jersey nurse who confessed to sneaking into hospital rooms late at night and injecting patient after patient with deadly amounts of drugs, is trying to exert his last bits of leverage from a solo cell in the Somerset County jail before he is sent away for life.

His maneuvering is infuriating the families of his victims and delaying their long-awaited rendezvous in court. It is also making a strange case even stranger, partly because of what was, until now, a little-known legal wrinkle in New Jersey that allows defendants to skip their sentencing.

"Can't we just get this over with?" said Lucille Gall, whose brother Mr. Cullen has admitted killing. "This is a sick little game he's playing."

Most of the prosecutors in the case seem unfazed or, at least, they talk that way.

"We don't need him anymore," said Wayne J. Forrest, prosecutor for Somerset County, N.J., where Mr. Cullen confessed to 13 murders. "We've completed our investigation. We got our guilty pleas. We're done."

John Morganelli, district attorney for Northampton County, Pa., where Mr. Cullen admitted killing one patient, said, "I could go to court right now and get a conviction, with or without his cooperation."

But in Essex County, it is a different story. Mr. Cullen told investigators he thinks he killed five patients at a hospital near Newark. The problem is, he does not remember whom. Until recently, he had been meeting regularly with Essex investigators, studying old charts, peering into old photos, trying to jog his memory.

So far, Mr. Cullen, 45, has pleaded guilty to murdering 29 patients in New Jersey and Pennsylvania medical facilities. Most of his victims were old and sick.

After he was arrested in 2003, he agreed to help investigators identify all of his victims - he estimated there were up to 40 - in exchange for avoiding the death penalty.

But the deal began to fray last month, when Mr. Cullen announced he wanted to donate a kidney to an ailing friend. The authorities said he could do it only after his sentencing, which Mr. Cullen threatened to miss.

Many lawyers said that this was the first time they had ever heard of a serial killer trying to skip his sentencing. Earlier this month, prosecutors indefinitely delayed Mr. Cullen's sentencing, saying they needed more time to investigate the Essex cases and one mysterious death in Morris County. A few days later, Mr. Cullen struck back, saying through his public defender that he was finished cooperating.

"This isn't about a power trip, this is about a kidney," said his lawyer, Johnnie Mask. "Charlie's worried that if the sentencing keeps getting pushed back, it may be too late. He really cares about saving this life, ironic as that may seem."

On Friday, Peter C. Harvey, New Jersey's attorney general, said a new possibility had emerged: Mr. Cullen could be sentenced for the crimes to which he had already confessed, he could donate his kidney and then he could continue cooperating with the authorities on any open cases. "Our goal is to bring finality," Mr. Harvey said.

He added that prosecutors were mulling the options. If talks break down, there is an outside chance the plea agreement could be nullified and Mr. Cullen tried in court, exposing him to the death penalty.

What is giving Mr. Cullen his 11th-hour leverage is New Jersey's criminal procedure rule 3:21-4 (b), which says, "Sentence shall not be imposed unless the defendant is present or has filed a written waiver of the right to be present."

Mr. Mask and other defense lawyers say the law is on their side and that precedent upholds a defendant's right to opt out of sentencing.

Prosecutors, on the other hand, say judges have the ultimate discretion and can order sheriff's deputies to drag Mr. Cullen to court. Both sides vow to press their case aggressively, which only raises the specter of a long appeals process.

And now there's another potential complication. Christopher Bateman, a Republican assemblyman from Somerville, is pushing a bill that would force defendants to come to their sentencing. "It's only right that the families get to inflict a little pain, so to speak," he said.

But all the back and forth seems to be only compounding the pain.

"We want to know how Cullen, a criminal, a murderer, thinks he has so much power to decide what he can do and cannot do?" Tom and Mary Strenko wrote in an e-mail interview. "He is a killer and he has no right to decide anything!"

The Strenkos' 21-year-old son, Michael, was hospitalized in 2003 with a serious but curable blood disease. Mr. Cullen has confessed to killing him. "We are not giving up on this! No way!" the Strenkos continued. "It is as important to us as breathing air to have Charles Cullen once again look into our loathing eyes to personally see and hear the pain and suffering he has caused us for the rest of our lives!"

 

20060110: Serial Killer, Angry at Sentencing Delay, Stops Cooperating NJ Newark Serial Killer News

The New Jersey nurse who confessed to killing 29 people and has spent nearly two years cooperating with investigators decided abruptly on Tuesday that he would no longer help them.

The nurse, Charles Cullen, 45, was so upset about his sentencing being canceled last week that he is pulling out of a carefully constructed plea deal in which he had agreed to help identify his victims in exchange for not facing the death penalty, his lawyer, Johnnie Mask, said.

The authorities said that his refusal to cooperate could mean that prosecutors will seek the death penalty. It could also mean that many mysterious hospital deaths will not be resolved, leaving family members to forever wonder if their loved ones died naturally or were murdered.

Mr. Cullen has told the authorities he killed up to 40 people, many of them old and ailing patients whom he injected with lethal doses of heart drugs. But he did not remember all their names. So investigators have been struggling to identify them and, until Tuesday, were working closely with Mr. Cullen, sifting through mountains of medical records in the effort to jog his memory to determine exactly whom he killed.

The cooperation may now be coming to an end because of a kidney. In a strange concession to coax Mr. Cullen to come to his own sentencing and face dozens of grieving family members, New Jersey authorities agreed in December to allow him to donate a kidney to an ailing friend, as long as the operation was performed after his sentencing. But last week the authorities delayed the sentencing indefinitely, saying they needed more time to investigate hospital deaths in Morris and Essex Counties that Mr. Cullen may have caused. Mr. Cullen lost his patience, his lawyer said, and decided he would no longer help investigators.

"The deal is off," Mr. Mask said. "He's done. No more cooperation. Period."

"Now it's on the prosecutors' shoulders whether somebody else dies," Mr. Mask added, referring to the man who is waiting for a kidney donation.

Peter C. Harvey, New Jersey's attorney general, called that notion "ridiculous" and said it was not the prosecutors' role to find a new kidney for Mr. Cullen's friend.

"Our job is to protect the victims," Mr. Harvey said.

He also said, "It's strange that all of a sudden this guy has become a humanitarian after killing 22 people in New Jersey."

Paula T. Dow, the prosecutor for Essex County, where Mr. Cullen has admitted to killing several people, said Mr. Cullen's refusal to cooperate was "a clear breach of the plea agreement" and that "it now exposes him" to being brought back to court to face trial and possibly the death penalty.

But the reality of his ever being executed, at least in New Jersey, is slim because the state has not put anyone to death since 1963, and this week the Legislature passed a temporary moratorium on capital punishment. However, Mr. Cullen has admitted to seven murders in Pennsylvania, which does have the death penalty.

The authorities said on Tuesday that they were not sure if Mr. Cullen's action was a ploy to speed up donation of the kidney, or if he truly intended not to cooperate ever again. They added that they were unsure of what they would do next.

The development was the latest twist in a long case that began in 1987 at St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, N.J. Mr. Cullen had a history of mental illness and suicidal behavior and gravitated to the night shift, where he was known among colleagues as solitary and strange, with a cold bedside manner.

In 1993 he was accused of killing a 91-year-old woman with a single injection of digoxin, a powerful heart drug that became his weapon of choice. But somehow he slipped through the cracks of the medical system and went on to work at 10 places in New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania before he was arrested in 2003.

In 2004, he struck a deal with the authorities in both states to plead guilty and cooperate in exchange for at least two consecutive life terms, which in New Jersey meant he would not be eligible for parole for 126 years. But in December, as sentencing approached, problems arose, partly because of a little-known procedural rule that allows a defendant to skip his sentencing. Mr. Cullen said he might do that and deny his victims' families a chance to confront him.

Now it is not clear what will happen, with some prosecutors saying Mr. Cullen will be dragged into court, no matter what, while others are not so sure.

 

20060102: Serial killer nurse to face the families of victims NJ Newark Serial Killer News
This could be the week that Marie Romero finally gets to look Charles Cullen straight in the eye and tell him how much pain he caused by killing her sister.

Romero’s sister, Catherine Dext, was killed with an injection by the former nurse and admitted serial killer in June 1996 at Hunterdon Medical Center, where she had been admitted with a ruptured spleen.

A sentencing hearing is scheduled to begin Thursday for Cullen, who pleaded guilty to 29 murders and six attempted murders during his 16-year nursing career in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Cullen, 44, has told investigators he might have killed as many as 40 persons, but authorities say that estimate appears to be inflated. Most of the victims were given an overdose of heart medication, usually digoxin.

The former critical-care nurse was able to move from hospital to hospital, despite suspicions he was killing patients, because the institutions did not report their fears to authorities.

The sentencing may stretch out over two days because so many victims’ relatives want to give victim-impact statements.

Cullen had filed papers to waive his right to appear at his sentencing, a move that outraged many of the families.

However, authorities had something Cullen wanted: the right to approve his request to donate a kidney to a relative of Cullen’s ex-girlfriend. With that leverage, authorities persuaded Cullen to agree to appear at the sentencing.

Cullen faces life for each of the New Jersey murders, and won’t be eligible for parole for at least 127 years. In exchange for his plea and agreement to help identify his victims, he escaped New Jersey’s death penalty.

State Attorney General Peter Harvey said he hopes to have all 22 New Jersey cases against Cullen resolved in this week’s sentencing. However, the sentencing could be postponed if no decision is made on whether to also bring charges in several open cases in Essex and Morris counties.

He also escaped death in Pennsylvania, where he still faces sentencing.

A judge there already has ordered him to be present.

 

20051207: Serial killer wants to donate kidney Serial Killer News

Former nurse Charles Cullen, who admitted murdering at least 29 patients in the Lehigh Valley and New Jersey by injecting them with lethal doses of drugs, wants to donate his kidney to save a life.

Cullen has asked prosecutors to allow him to travel to New York so doctors can perform the surgery, his attorney said Tuesday.

Johnnie Mask, Cullen's public defender, said prosecutors have agreed to let Cullen undergo the operation in New Jersey, but not travel to New York for it.

''I don't know what the objections are'' to doing the surgery in New York, Mask said. ''Security and expense have always been thrown up as an obstacle.''

Doing the transplant in New Jersey would mean a new transplant team and months of additional tests, he said.

In exchange for permission to give the kidney in New York, Cullen is willing to appear in court when he is sentenced to life in prison, Mask said.

''We're pushing prosecutors to do the operation in New York because the [potential recipient] doesn't have seven months to wait,'' Mask said.

Mask would not identify the intended recipient of the kidney, but The Star-Ledger of Newark, citing unnamed sources, reported in Tuesday's newspapers that it is a relative of Cullen's ex-girlfriend.

The man is in his 30s, a father of four and in poor health, Mask added. He lost kidney function as a result of infection.

Mask said the request for a kidney came about two months ago.

''Initially, some parties opposed the whole thing on the basis that Cullen could die on the table,'' he said.

Cullen, formerly of Bethlehem, had previously filed papers to waive his right to appear in court for the sentencing — an action that had enraged relatives of his victims, who want to confront him one more time.

At one point after Cullen's 2003 arrest, Mask said Cullen wanted to be able to explain his actions to his victims' survivors. But his position changed, Mask said, because the victims' families and victim-rights groups have been hostile.

By appearing at a sentencing, Cullen could answer at least some questions about his crimes.

Mask said he hopes to get an answer in the next few weeks on the transplant and any deal related to Cullen's appearance at the sentencings, which could come in the next few months.

Somerset County Prosecutor Wayne Forrest would not comment Tuesday on the transplant offer or the deal Cullen has proposed.

In a series of court appearances in northern New Jersey and the Lehigh Valley, Cullen has admitted to 29 murders and six attempted murders over the course of his 16-year nursing career. In the latest plea Monday, he admitted to attempting to kill Somerset Medical Center patient Philip Gregor in 2003.

There could be more pleas in the future, though authorities and Mask agree that the investigations are winding down.

Cullen was arrested in December 2003 and charged with the murder of a patient at Somerset Medical Center and the attempted homicide of another. The next year, he pleaded guilty and agreed to help authorities determine exactly whom he killed in exchange for avoiding the death penalty.

 

20051206: Serial killer admits another attempted murder while a nurse NJ Somerville Serial Killer News
Serial killer Charles Cullen on Mondy pleaded guilty to another attempted murder at Somerset Medical Center in Somerville, in what his attorney predicted would probably be his last plea.

In a proceeding lasting less than 10 minutes in state Superior Court, Cullen, 45, a former nurse, admitted before Judge Paul W. Armstrong to attempting to kill critical care patient Philip J. Gregor of South Bound Brook with an overdose of insulin on June 18, 2003.

"Yes, I did," said Cullen when asked by Assistant Prosecutor Timothy Van Hise if he had administered the insulin to the patient without a doctor's orders. "To cause his death" was Cullen's reply when he was asked why.

The answers have become increasingly rote for Cullen, who has pleaded guilty to killing 29 patients at hospitals in five New Jersey and two Pennsylvania counties and attempting to kill five more between 1988 and 2003.

"News of every heinous act he committed to a patient in his care still shocks and saddens us," said hospital spokeswoman Vicky Allen.

Cullen, shackled and clad in mustard-colored prison scrubs, was brought to the courtroom from the Somerset County Jail in Somerville, where he is being held pending his transfer upon sentencing to a maximum security prison.

He has appeared increasingly gaunt since his arrest and arraignment following a series of suspicious deaths at Somerset Medical Center in December 2003.

Compared with Cullen's earlier appearances, the courtroom was almost empty. although Gregor's widow and sister were present, they declined to comment. "When he's sentenced, I'll have a whole lot to say," said Linda Gregor.

Cullen's plea was part of an April 29, 2004, plea agreement in which he was spared the death penalty in exchange for cooperating with investigators in identifying victims. Investigators have since been reviewing files with him.

 

20050710: New Revelations about Convicted Serial Killer Nurse PA Bethlehem Serial Killer News

Nurses who worked with serial killer Charles Cullen at a Pennsylvania hospital apparently warned authorities long before his arrest that he was suspected of killing patients.

That's according to a report today in The Morning Call of Allentown.

But Lehigh County District Attorney James Martin says there just wasn't enough evidence at the time to prosecute Cullen for anything.

And the forensic pathologist who investigated agrees.The pathologist reviewed 26 cases of patients who died while Cullen was working at Saint Luke's Hospital in Bethlehem.

He says the only evidence beyond "vague suspicions" was medical histories of people who died -- but who were already very sick.

After leaving Saint Luke's, Cullen worked at Somerset Medical Center in New Jersey, where he has admitted killing patients.

 

20050520: Cullen tells AG basic security could stop killer nurses NJ Somerville Serial Killer News

The state's worst serial killer is offering authorities tips on how to thwart people who want to follow in his footsteps.

Killer nurse Charles Cullen met for eight hours over two days this week with state Attorney General Peter Harvey, who wanted to find out how to prevent future murders by medical professionals.

Cullen, who says he may have killed as many as 40 patients in New Jersey and Pennsylvania by injecting them with lethal doses of drugs, told Harvey that tracking who takes medications from dispensaries could prevent hospital workers from killing patients.

"He believes that the best deterrent is the certainty of detection," Harvey told The Star-Ledger of Newark for Friday's newspapers. "Using more video surveillance. Using a swipe card that would allow hospitals to easily track who is withdrawing what medication. These are security controls that can be placed on rooms that house medications."

Thus far, Cullen has pleaded guilty to murdering 24 patients and attempting to kill five others

The meetings Wednesday and Thursday were part of what Cullen agreed to last year when he promised to cooperate with law enforcement authorities in return for avoiding the death penalty. Harvey said he plans to speak again with Cullen.

"Once we complete our discussions with him, we are going to compile a series of recommendations that we're going to give to the Board of Medical Examiners and the nursing board with suggestions of how to better protect patients and hospitals," Harvey said. "We're going to ask for their input and action."

Cullen, a former registered nurse, worked at hospitals and nursing facilities in New Jersey and Pennsylvania over a 16-year career.

Harvey said the 45-year-old Cullen showed some remorse _ an emotion that he has not displayed in court.

"He accepts more responsibility than he expresses remorse, but he certainly does both," Harvey said. "I didn't expect it."

 

20050511: Siblings assert serial killer nurse murdered father Serial Killer News

The children of a former Madison resident say they have compelling proof that Charles Cullen, serial killer nurse, killed their father with massive doses of digoxin in January 1997 at Morristown Memorial Hospital.

Lynn Popelka of Netcong and Wayne Sarrow of Readington Township paid to have the remains of their father, Henry Sarrow, disinterred from Saint Vincent’s Cemetery in Madison in February and examined, they said on Wednesday, April 13, at the office of their attorney, Anthony J. Macri of Denville.

Cullen, who is in the Somerset County Jail, denies killing the retired postal worker while he worked at Morristown Memorial from November 1996 to August 1997, according to the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office. He has admitted to killing 24 patients, from 1988 to 2003, but none at Morristown Memorial, authorities said.

So far, Popelka and Sarrow have sued Morristown Memorial, alleging wrongful death and negligence, said attorney Macri, who added that he expects “a long fight.”

Macri said that autopsy reports have been sent to the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office, an office the siblings claim was unresponsive to past concerns that Cullen was responsible for their father’s death.

Autopsy Results

Henry Sarrow had been admitted to Morristown Memorial on Jan. 9, 1997, because of shortness of breath, and on Jan. 15 he suffered a fatal heart attack, which the family said was not expected. He was 77.

When Mr. Sarrow’s remains were analyzed after the February exhumation, they were found to have digoxin levels of 230 nanograms per kilogram, when a normal level should be 2 nanograms per kilogram, according to Macri’s office.

The levels of digoxin, a heart medication, found in Mr. Sarrow’s body were 125 times the amount that would be found in someone who was being given therapeutic doses, the family and its attorney assert. Such a scenario would fit Cullen’s preferred method of killing – administering overdoses of digoxin.

Mr. Sarrow had worked as a school crossing guard for the Madison Board of Education after his retirement as a postal worker.

Recognized Nurse

After Cullen was arrested in 2003 on charges that he administered a lethal overdose to one patient and attempted to murder another at the Somerset Medical Center, Popelka reportedly recognized Cullen from news photos as a nurse at Morristown Memorial during her father’s hospitalization.

According to attorney Macri, hospital records show Cullen was on duty during overnight hours before two cardiac episodes Mr. Sarrow suffered at Morristown Memorial, the second one fatal.

Cullen is reviewing records from hospitals where he worked, including Morristown Memorial, cooperating with authorities in exchange for a waiver of the death penalty. He is expected to be sentenced to multiple life terms in prison.

 

20041231: Serial killer spends time reading and doing “homework” NJ Somerville Serial Killer News

CULLEN scans medical files to determine if any patients were his victims.
Life in the Somerset County jail is a little like life aboard the USS Woodrow Wilson, the submarine where Charles CULLEN spent months isolated in the deep waters of the Atlantic. In jail, CULLEN has limited space, a bunk to sleep in, and three square meals served with military precision. He has reading material, time on his hands, and no place to go: the cold steel walls of the sub (where CULLEN developed an interest in nursing by helping to inoculate his shipmates) have been replaced by the cold stone walls of justice.
The only times serial killer Charles CULLEN leaves the jail is to travel to various county courts to admit he murdered patients at the 10 medical facilities where he worked in New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania. CULLEN claims to have killed as many as 40 patients during his 16-year career.
CULLEN has made five such trips so far, pleading guilty to killing 24 patients and attempting to kill five others by injecting them with various medications that he stole from the hospital's drug supplies. There will be others.
In exchange for his cooperation and guilty pleas, authorities waived the death penalty and CULLEN instead must serve at least 127 years in a New Jersey state prison before he is eligible for parole. For now, CULLEN will remain inmate No. 71533 in the Somerset County jail, on the corner of Grove and High streets in Somerville and across from the prosecutor's office where he first admitted his deep, dark secret to detectives after being arrested last December.

 

20041117: Serial killer nurse pleads guilty to murders in Lehigh County PA Allentown Serial Killer News
Serial killer Charles Cullen pleaded guilty today to six murders and three attempted murders in Lehigh County, bringing the former nurse's tally to 23 deaths in two states...Whispering his replies to a judge's routine questions, Cullen, 44, formerly of Bethlehem, offered no details or excuses to the victims' relatives, dozens of whom packed the Allentown courtroom..."He took something away that was so precious to us and we're never going to forgive him," said Connie Keeler, of Bethlehem, whose father Cullen tried to kill..."He shows no emotion to what he did," she said...Keeler's father, Lehigh Valley radio personality Paul Galgon, 72, died of renal failure at St. Luke's Hospital near Bethlehem nine hours after Cullen injected him with the heart stimulant digoxin. Forensic evidence showed that the digoxin contributed to Galgon's death...Family members were not given a chance to address Cullen today, but are expected to have that opportunity at his sentencing, which may be a year away. Judge William Platt denied Cullen's request to be absent during sentencing, which won't occur until after Cullen is sentenced in New Jersey...Cullen has yet to meet with prosecutors in Essex County, where he worked in the burn unit at St. Barnabas Hospital for four years; or in Hunterdon County, where he worked at Hunterdon Medical Center for two years. His attorney, Johnny Mask, said it appears that Cullen did not kill anyone in Morris County, where he worked in 1997...Cullen has pleaded guilty to murdering patients in hospitals in Somerset County and Warren County, in New Jersey, and in Northampton County, in Pennsylvania. Usually, he injected overdoses into the intravenous bag of terminally ill, elderly patients. His youngest known victim was Matthew Mattern, a 22-year-old patient the burn unit at Lehigh Valley Hospital near Allentown...Cullen will be sentenced to life in prison as part of a plea agreement worked out with prosecutors in both states. He told authorities after his arrest in December that he killed as many as 40 patients in 10 hospitals in Pennsylvania and New Jersey during his 16-year career as a registered nurse. Prosecutors have agreed not to seek the death penalty as long as Cullen cooperates by identifying his victims.
 

20041106: Pa. judge rejects serial killer's intention to skip sentencing PA Allentown Serial Killer News
A former nurse who has admitted killing 17 patients with lethal doses of medication at hospitals in New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania will have to attend his sentencing hearing and face the families of his alleged victims in Lehigh County, a judge has ruled. ..Cullen, 44, is scheduled to plead guilty Nov. 17 in Lehigh County Court to six counts of homicide and three counts of attempted homicide. Families won't be able to confront him at the hearing but will be able to do so when Cullen returns to court for his sentencing, likely next year. ..On Tuesday, Judge William H. Platt told Cullen's attorneys that he will not accept Cullen's waiver of his right to appear at the sentencing. ..Cullen's attorney, public defender Johnnie Mask, said he was not happy with Platt's decision but does not intend to fight it. ..After his arrest in December, Cullen told investigators that he killed as many as 40 people during his nursing career. He has pleaded guilty or been charged in a total of 23 murders and has agreed to help investigators identify his victims in a deal to avoid the death penalty. ..The families of several of Cullen's alleged Lehigh County victims were pleased with the judge's decision. .."He needs to be there to face us," said Connie Keeler, the daughter of Paul Galgon, 72, a St. Luke's Hospital patient authorities said Cullen attempted to kill in 2001. "He should have to look into each of our faces and see the pain we are going through." ..When Cullen pleaded guilty to a single killing in Northampton County in September, the daughter of the elderly victim called Cullen a monster, talked about her father's life, and asked Cullen whether he remembered his victims. ..Mask said the hearing was hard on his client, and he would prefer to avoid them. ..In Lehigh County, Cullen is accused of killing five people and attempting to kill two others at St. Luke's Hospital in Fountain Hill, where he worked from June 2000 to June 2002, and killing one person and attempting to kill another at Lehigh Valley Hospital in Salisbury Township, where he worked from December 1998 to April 2000. ..In neighboring Northampton County, he pleaded guilty to killing one person at Easton Hospital. ..In New Jersey, Cullen has pleaded guilty to killing 16 people and attempting to kill two others at Somerset Medical Center and Warren Hospital. ..Under his plea agreement, Cullen will be sentenced to life in prison in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and will serve the sentence in New Jersey. He will not be eligible for parole for at least 127 years. .
 

20041030: Serial Killer Seeking to Skip Sentencing PA Allentown Serial Killer News
A district attorney said he is trying to determine whether serial killer Charles Cullen can be compelled to appear in court so relatives of the patients he is accused of killing can confront him if he is sentenced to life in prison...Cullen, a former registered nurse, is expected to plead guilty in the next few weeks to charges he killed six patients at two hospitals with lethal doses of medication. Under the proposed plea agreement, Cullen would be spared the death penalty in exchange for helping to identify his victims...Cullen already has pleaded guilty to killing 17 during a 16-year career at hospitals in Pennsylvania and New Jersey...Cullen has said through his attorney he wants to waive his right to be in court at sentencing...But District Attorney James Martin says he will do research to determine whether there is a legal way to force Cullen to appear. "In all my years doing this, I've never seen a defendant not come to his sentencing," he said...Margory Blakemore, daughter of Edward O'Toole, who died at St. Luke's Hospital in Fountain Hill in 2002, said she and other relatives should have the right to address Cullen face to face. "He should have to hear about how much pain he's caused," she said.. .
 


Copyright 1995-2006 by Elisabeth Wetsch
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