Saldivar Case Poses Prosecutor Challenge

ByABC News
January 25, 2001, 2:59 PM

Jan. 26 -- Efren Saldivar Los Angeles' so-called Angel of Death is now part of the medical death club.

As he faces six counts of murder, the former respiratory therapist joins Dr. Michael Swango, Dr. Harold Shipman of Britain, Indiana's nurse Orville Lynn Majors and others in an infamous pantheon of health-care providers accused of a betrayal most would find unthinkable killing the people who entrusted them with their lives.

Swango, Shipman and Majors have all been convicted of murder.

A prosecutor who tried the Majors case believes his counterparts in Saldivar's case face a stiff yet not insurmountable challenge.

"One of the biggest concerns is convincing a jury that people with underlying organic problems the reason that they were in a hospital to begin with died as a result of a crime being committed," said Vermillion County deputy prosecutor Gregory Carter, who helped convict Majors of six patients' murders in 1999.

Prosecutors say Saldivar, 31, injected six patients with lethal doses of the muscle relaxant Pavulin between December 1996 and January 1997 while he worked at Glendale Adventist Medical Center. All of the patients were ill, prosecutors say, but were not ready to die, and all had traces of the drug in their system.

Defense attorneys are expected to claim the patients were either terminally ill or died of natural causes.

Recanted Confession

Saldivar was charged earlier this month after a nearly three-year investigation. Prosecutors say he confessed to dozens of killings while he worked at the medical center between 1989 and 1997, telling police he was angered at the sight of seeing terminally ill patients kept alive. Considering himself the "Angel of Death," Saldivar allegedly told police in 1998 he killed patients by injecting Pavulin into their intravenous lines. Saldivar was arrested but released by police three days later because of lack of evidence.

Saldivar recanted his alleged confession in later interviews, claiming he was suffering from depression at the time and was suicidal. In a 1998 interview with 20/20 Friday he said, "I wanted the system to do to me what I couldn't do to me. I was looking to die. I figured, you know, one death isn't gonna be enough for the death penalty so I said two."