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Indiana Police Charge Former Nurse With the Murders of Six Hospital Patients and Suspect Him

December 30, 1997 GMT

Indiana Police Charge Former Nurse With the Murders of Six Hospital Patients and Suspect Him of Role in Deaths of as Many as 100 OthersBy CHARLES HOSKINSON

NEWPORT, Ind. (AP) _ Even among those trusted to care for the neediest and most vulnerable patients, Orville Lynn Majors stood out.

His bosses at Vermillion County Hospital, where he was a licensed practical nurse in the intensive care unit, once praised his people skills. Paula Holdaway remembers him leaning over her mother’s hospital bed, kissing the 80-year-old woman’s forehead and brushing her hair back.

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``It’s all right, punkin,″ Ms. Holdaway remembers Majors saying to Dorothea Hixon, who was then given an injection. ``Everything’s going to be all right now, punkin.″

A minute later, Hixon was dead.

Majors was charged Monday with murdering her and five others by injection at a hospital where deaths in the intensive care unit reached what prosecutors described as an ``epidemic.″ They say patients were 43 times more likely to die on days when he was on duty.

Majors, 36, is jailed without bond. He was scheduled to appear today in Vermillion Circuit Court in Newport, about 15 miles north of Clinton, where the hospital is located.

He has maintained his innocence. His lawyer, I. Marshall Pinkus, said there is no evidence Majors did anything wrong.

Relatives of the dead were horrified.

``My husband wasn’t sick enough to die,″ said Mildred Smith, who lost 74-year-old Cecil a day after he was admitted for pneumonia. ``This was the last thing that I expected. I would like to put him rest but I can’t, not until he (Majors) is convicted.″

Increasing suspicions about Majors prompted hospital officials to study the number of deaths. The conclusion that Majors had been present for many of them prompted them to call state police.

Investigators spent nearly three years and $1.5 million investigating 130 intensive care deaths that happened while Majors was on duty from 1993 to 1995. Police have said he was a suspect in as many as 100 deaths. A search of his former home turned up a variety of drugs, syringes and needles.

Authorities declined to elaborate on the charges. But a state police commander, Lt. Charles Ellis, said a computer analysis of the case finished in November was a turning point.

During the period Majors worked at Vermillion, now known as West Central Community Hospital, a death occurred every 23.1 hours he was on duty, the study found. When he was off duty, a death occurred every 551.6 hours.

The investigation included the exhumations of 15 patients, including the six people named in the affidavit _ all of whom died from injections. Ranging in age from 56 to 89, all were said to be in stable condition before they died suddenly.

An autopsy revealed some of the deaths were consistent with the injection of potassium chloride, which can cause the heart to stop. It is the same drug used to kill some condemned prisoners.

In two cases, police said, a witness saw Majors give a patient an injection just before the patients died. A nurse once saw Majors standing over a victim with syringe in hand, investigators said, and in another case Majors was the last person seen with the patient.

The hospital suspended Majors in March 1995, after it began an investigation into the death rate. The State Nursing Board revoked his license for five years in 1995 for practicing beyond his authority by giving emergency drugs and working in an ICU without a nurse present.

The study found that deaths at the hospital reached ``epidemic″ proportions from July to December of 1994, and that Majors was ``uniquely and very strongly associated with that mortality,″ according to the affidavit.

During that period, 67 people died in the intensive care unit; Majors was working during 63 of the deaths.

In a typical instance, one nurse told police that several patients were fine when she left her shift, but later died when Majors was on duty. Another reported leaving a patient in good condition only to have Majors report moments later that the patient had died.

Nurses and housekeepers told police that Majors would refer to patients’ families as ``white trash″ and ``dirt,″ and said old people ``should all be gassed.″

In one case, hospital employees said they saw Majors standing by an elderly woman’s bedside. ``I’m just sitting here waiting for the woman to die,″ Majors allegedly said. She later died.

John Rozsa, whose 61-year-old wife Ethel died unexpectedly after she went to the hospital with heart attack symptoms, said he wanted Majors convicted and sentenced to die.

``I want to see them sentence him to a lethal injection of potassium chloride,″ he said, ``and give him a taste of his own medicine.″

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