Murderous Nurse Escapes Death Penalty

ByABC News
March 26, 2001, 3:06 PM

S P R I N G F I E L D, Mass., March 26 -- A former veterans hospital nurse who killed four patients by overdosing them with medicine was spared the death penalty today when a federal jury decided she should spend the rest of her life in prison.

Kristen Gilbert, 33, could have been sentenced to lethal injection and would have become the only woman on federal death row. A federal judge was expected to make the jury's recommendation a formal sentence this afternoon.

There was no audible reaction in the courtroom as the decision to spare Gilbert was announced. Her parents wept and most of the victims' families sat stone-faced.

Her father and grandmothers pleaded with jurors to let her live, saying a death sentence would be devastating to them and Gilbert's two sons.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney William Welch called Gilbert a "shell of a human being" who deserved to die for the cold and calculating way she murdered her victims, injecting them with overdoses of the heart stimulant epinephrine, also called adrenaline, which made their hearts race out of control. Prosecutors had argued that she wanted to attract attention, especially from her lover, a hospital security guard.

'Kristen Gilbert Is Not a Monster'

Defense attorneys said a life term in prison was a punishment harsh enough for a young woman convicted on evidence they said was nothing more than circumstantial. They had argued that the deaths were due to natural causes.

"It is easier to incite good and decent people to kill when their target is not human but a demon," defense attorney Paul Weinberg said. "Kristen Gilbert is not a monster, she is a human being."

Gilbert's trial began with jury selection last October. Opening statements were given in November.

Gilbert was convicted March 14 of the first-degree murder in the deaths of three veterans. She also was convicted of second-degree murder, which is not subject to the death penalty, in the death of a fourth veteran, and of trying to kill two other veterans.

After the sentencing phase of the trial, jurors deliberated for less than six hours Friday and today.