Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Angels of Death: The Male Nurses

**New Chapter: Liberator?

The murder trial began in Kempten, Germany, in July 2006. News sources considered Letter's acts to be the "worst killing spree in postwar German history," according to the BBC and dw-world.com, and an attorney for relatives of the deceased said the murders had been random and "aimless." As the proceedings opened, Letter read a statement accepting his guilt and claiming he'd only wanted to help, but he did not formally testify at any time during the trial on his own behalf. Instead, he listened as others argued over what he had done and what he'd intended.

Judge Harry Rechner
Judge Harry Rechner

The prosecutor used the fact that some of the patients had not been seriously ill or dying to prove murder, and in a few cases, it seemed that Letter had had little contact with them. His defense attorneys argued that he was only guilty of 13 manslaughters and two mercy killings, saying that these patients had lost their will to live. He also believed that Letter had been inexperienced and perhaps emotionally unstable, thinking he was doing the right thing. However, the presiding judge, Harry Rechner, stated, "None of the patients was expecting an attack on their lives." He rejected claims that Letter had no evil motive, stating that the defendant had shown only superficial interest in the patients, not genuine concern. The prosecutor's closing statement compared Letter's spate of killing to an assembly line.

On November 20, 2006, Stephan Letter was found guilty on 28 counts — 12 murder, 15 manslaughter, and one mercy-killing — and sentenced to life in prison. Judge Rechner added a rider that would deny him automatic parole after 15 years and said that, in any event, he must never be allowed to practice as a nurse again.

Letter listened to the verdict and sentence, and some sources state he showed little reaction, but others describe him as choking back tears. The Australian reported that he "seemed to mouth four words: 'Es tut mir leid' (I'm sorry)."

In light of this case, the clinic had to review and revise its procedures, since the stolen drugs should not have been so easily accessible. They were generally used only in intensive care units and supposedly were carefully controlled. Yet no one apparently noticed that someone was pilfering significant amounts across a period of time until many people were dead. The German Hospice Foundation called for Germany to introduce uniform checks, with medically qualified coroners viewing every patient who died in hospitals and homes for the elderly.

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