C O L U M B U S, Ohio, Oct. 18, 2000 -- A former doctor who prosecutors say enjoyed killing people, today admitted to fatally poisoning a woman at Ohio State University’s hospital in 1984 while she was recovering from an auto accident.
Investigators believe the death of Cynthia Ann McGee, 19, began a string of poisonings in the United States and Zimbabwe by Michael Swango, who pleaded guilty in Franklin County Common Pleas Court to aggravated murder. He admitted injecting McGee with a deadly dose of potassium when he was an intern at Ohio State.
Judge Lisa Sadler gave Swango the maximum penalty — life in prison with a chance of parole after 20 years. That was the most severe penalty for the crime in 1984, when McGee died.
Old Wounds Reopened Swango, 45, made no statement and stood looking at the judge with his chin slightly raised when she imposed sentence.
Earlier, Swango sat with his hands folded in his lap, occasionally fidgeting and licking his lips as prosecutors described how he killed McGee.
Her parents, William and Janis, did not attend the hearing.
“While we are happy to see justice having been pursued and achieved in criminal courts, we are saddened by the reopening again of old wounds,” they said in a statement read by their attorney, Brian Miller of Columbus.
“We think of all the events which Cynthia has missed and the time which we could have shared with her, but which was taken from us. ‘Time heals all wounds’ is just a slogan.”
Killed For Pleasure? Swango pleaded guilty last month in U.S. District Court to killing three patients at a veterans hospital in New York in 1993 and was sentenced to life in prison without parole. Prosecutors there read from Swango’s handwritten journal, citing it as evidence that he killed for pleasure.
In one journal entry, Swango mused about “the sweet, husky, close smell of indoor homicide.” Another suggested that murder was “the only way I have of reminding myself that I’m still alive.”
A book about him, Blind Eye: The Story of a Doctor who Got Away with Murder, suggests Swango might have killed as many as 35 patients as he moved from hospital to hospital, lying about his background.
Carol Scott of Dublin, a friend of the McGee family, said Swango appears to have no remorse.
“I think he’s a very sick man. He’s a sociopath. He has no conscience,” she said after the hearing.
Scott said she’s glad Swango won’t be able to hurt anyone else, but regrets that he wasn’t stopped sooner.
“I wish that something could have been done when she died that could have protected the people that followed Cynthia’s death,” Scott said.
Family’s Lingering Questions The mother of the nurse Swango was engaged to in 1992 traveled 400 miles from Yorktown, Va., for the sentencing.
“When he walked into the room, I felt like I wanted to shrink in my seat,” said Sharon Cooper, whose daughter, Kristin Kinney, committed suicide in 1993.
She said arsenic was found in her daughter’s body at the time of her death. Before her death, Kinney showed signs of arsenic poisoning, such as vomiting, migraine headaches, nausea and disorientation, Cooper said.
“We know that he poisoned Kristin Kinney,” said Al Cooper, Kinney’s stepfather.
Mrs. Cooper said she liked Swango when her daughter began dating him, but feared for her daughter’s life when she left for South Dakota with him.
“We often wondered why this happened. Why did he do the things that he did?” she said.
“I’m glad to see at least a small closure to it, but we still have so many questions.”
Cooper said there was no way to prove Swango poisoned her with arsenic.
End of a Long Trail Prosecutors said that because they had only circumstantial evidence, they needed Swango’s admission to McGee’s death so he could be charged in Ohio. Swango admitted to McGee’s poisoning when he pleaded guilty in the New York killings so he could avoid the death penalty.
McGee, of suburban Dublin, was recuperating from an accident that occurred two months earlier in Champaign, Ill., where she was attending the University of Illinois and was on the gymnastics team.
After her death, Scott Bone, the 17-year-old driver of the car that struck her bicycle, was convicted of reckless homicide and sentenced to 30 months’ probation and 1,000 hours of community service.
Authorities considered suspicious the deaths of at least six patients, including McGee’s, while Swango was at Ohio State during the 1983-1984 school year.
Federal prosecutors charged Swango with the New York killings days before he was to be released from prison after completing a 42-month prison sentence for lying on an application at a New York hospital. He failed to disclose that he had spent 30 months in jail and lost his medical license in 1985 for poisoning six co-workers in Quincy, Ill.