Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Charles Cullen: Healthcare Serial Killer

Acting Out

Michael Strenko's mother holds a portrait of him outside court
Michael Strenko's mother holds a
portrait of him outside court

As of this writing, Cullen has admitted to 29 murders and six attempted murders, without apology. He hoped to escape his sentencing hearing in New Jersey (he can waive his right to be there), where families give their impact statements, but the state had a card to play: Cullen had requested to donate a kidney to a friend of his former girlfriend, and he was allowed this on condition that he attend the hearing. The families wanted closure; they insisted he be forced to hear from them just how much damage he had done. Although it's expected that these are the last cases to which he will admit, there are still open cases pending investigation. Some families still believe, despite his denials, that he was instrumental in their loved one's death.

He went to court in Somerville, New Jersey on March 2, 2006 to receive 11 life sentences, while about twenty relatives of his victims battered him with name-calling and descriptions of the emotional aftermath of his crimes. His thin hair had turned gray in the two years since he was arrested, writes Geoff Mulvihill for Newsday, and he sat throughout the ordeal with his eyes closed.

Somerville New Jersery Courthouse
Somerville New Jersery Courthouse

Then on March 10, he went to Allentown, Pennsylvania, and there he made a scene. The Morning Call showed a photo of him muzzled as the result of his failure to abide by the judge's instruction. Judge William Platt had apparently made a comment to the press about Cullen that Cullen's attorney said Cullen did not like, so he started the proceedings by saying, "Your honor, you need to step down."

Judge Platt said that he was unbiased and intended to preside over the hearing. Cullen continued to insist that he step down, turning this phrase it into a repetitive chant, "Your honor, you need to step down." The judge insisted that Cullen quiet down, but Cullen continued. Platt ordered that he be gagged, so a cloth was placed over his face with a mesh hood to hold it over his mouth, but he continued his chant in a muffled manner. Victims' relatives were frustrated in their attempts to be heard, but they addressed him anyway. They also told reporters what they'd said, but in some ways, Cullen had one-upped them, robbing them of their satisfaction in confronting him. At the end of the hearing, he received seven more life sentences.

Somerset County Jail
Somerset County Jail

In mid-March, Cullen was moved from the Somerset County Jail to New Jersey State prison in Trenton, where security is reportedly the tightest in the state, to serve his 18 consecutive life sentences. His health and mental state will be checked there. His request to donate a kidney was granted, allowing him one trip away from the prison to an unspecified place in New Jersey. Cullen is still required to assist in other investigations, even after his sentencing, according to his plea deal, so there may yet be future revelations. He remained unrepentant and refused to say why he had killed people who were not in need of his so-called merciful action.


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