Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Angels of Death: The Male Nurses

Code Blue Junkie

Nurse Joseph Dewey Akin, 35, who worked at Cooper Green Hospital in Birmingham, Alabama, was tried in September 1992 for killing Robert J. Price, 32, a quadriplegic, with a lethal dose of lidocaine. Investigators suspected Akin in over 100 deaths in the area over the past decade in twenty different facilities where he worked. However, many of those facilities had thwarted investigations.

Akin had long been suspected of causing many Code Blue medical emergencies, both in Alabama and in hospitals around the metro Atlanta area. The number of such emergencies at one hospital in Georgia was unusually high when Akin was working there, and colleagues noticed that at least four types of heart drugs had been stolen.

In the incident in which Akin was arrested, the amount of lidocaine found in Price's body was twice the lethal dose and four times the therapeutic dose. While defense experts attempted to explain it as something other than murder, prosecution experts had a ready counter-explanation.

At Akin's trial, Marion Albright, Price's assigned nurse, testified that when she came back from a lunch break she saw Akin walking out of Price's room. She attempted to enter it to check on her patient but he had tried to prevent her from doing so.

Akin's defense lawyer stipulated that the initial cardiac arrest was caused by a blocked ventilation tube, and that the amount of lidocaine found in his body was given to Price when the emergency team was trying to save his life. The defense also pointed out inconsistencies in nurses' testimony and in hospital records, as well as the fact that the hospital had originally billed the Price family for the lidocaine, indicating that it had been ordered for him (and if not, they had billed falsely).

In the end, after just over an hour of deliberation and only two votes, the jury decided that the circumstances warranted a conviction. When the verdict was read, Akin put his hand to his face.

One juror, when interviewed for the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, said, "Too many people all placed him at the scene of the crime, and nothing he said to explain it made sense."

On appeal, Akin's conviction was overturned, yet when he was tried again, the jury was unable to reach a verdict. Another retrial was scheduled for March 1998, but two months before it was to begin, Akin pled guilty to manslaughter. He received a sentence of 15 years.

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