Originally published in Newsday on December 15, 1989
A Suffolk County jury yesterday found Richard Angelo guilty of second-degree murder for injecting two patients with a paralyzing drug, but found him guilty of lesser charges - manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide - in the deaths of two other patients.
The jury, which deliberated for 7 1/2 days, also convicted Angelo of assaulting only one of three patients he was accused of assaulting in a verdict that both the prosecution and defense saw as an acceptable compromise.
In interviews, jurors said they were split on whether Angelo was aware of what he was doing and eventually concluded he was not aware of what he was doing in giving the drug Pavulon to the first patient he was accused of killing, but later became aware of the effects of his actions - prompting the manslaughter and murder convictions.
Angelo, who was called "a monster in nurse's whites" by the prosecution, faces a maximum term of 50 years to life when he is sentenced Jan. 17 by Suffolk County Court Judge Alfred Tisch. The case boiled down to whether Angelo knew the risk he was taking when he injected patients with drugs that blocked their breathing so he could prove his worth by responding to the emergency call to revive them, according to seven jurors who were interviewed after court. In the case of three of the four victims, they decided he acted recklessly, thus supporting the convictions on manslaughter and murder.
"I've never in my life seen the stress that we've gone through," said one juror, Michel A. Loguercio of Mastic, after the trial was over. "For eight long days, all of us lived three lives: we lived our own and Mr. Angelo's lives, and the victims' and their families'. "
Angelo only blinked twice while he stared blankly ahead as the verdicts were read about 12:30 p.m. yesterday. The jurors showed more emotion as some of them wiped away tears.
Other reactions to the verdict ranged from apparent calm acceptance by Angelo's parents, Alice and Joseph - who sat in the first spectators' row in the Riverhead courtroom just behind their son yesterday as they did throughout the nine-week trial - to the delight expressed by a daughter of one of Angelo's victims.
The Angelos left the courtroom without comment. And Carole Scollo, the daughter of murder victim Milton Poultney, said in a telephone interview she wished Angelo could be sentenced to some of his own medicine.
Good Samaritan Hospital issued a statement yesterday saying that it was relieved that a "tragic, senseless" chapter in its 30-year history had ended and again extended its sympathy to the families of Angelo's victims.
Angelo's defense attorney, Eric Naiburg, declined comment on whether there will be an appeal.
"It's obviously not the verdict I was looking for, but it's a compromise," Naiburg said. "It was an adversary proceeding. It's not the verdict that Mr. Collins was looking for either," he added, referring to Assistant District Attorney John Collins. "But it's probably what justice demanded."
Naiburg, in his summation, had argued to the jury that his client did inject the seven patients in the hospital's special care unit with paralyzing drugs and may have caused some of their deaths, but that because of a mental disorder Angelo didn't comprehend the grave and unjustifiable risk he was taking with their lives.
To find Angelo guilty of second-degree murder by depraved indifference to human life, the jurors had to find that he disregarded the grave and unjustifiable risk to human life by his actions and acted with depravity. Second-degree manslaughter is recklessly causing death and criminally negligent homicide is failing to perceive the risk attached to conduct but taking action that is grossly negligent.
Naiburg asked the jury to return verdicts of criminally negligent homicide on the four murder counts, which they did only in the case of one victim, Frederick LaGois, whom Angelo claimed he accidentally injected with Pavulon.
And the jurors decided to find Angelo guilty of second-degree manslaughter in the case of the first patient he injected, John Stanley Fisher.
But in the case of two other victims, Anthony Greene and Poultney, the jurors concluded that Angelo had perceived the grave and unjustifiable risk he was taking with their lives and acted with depravity when he injected them with Pavulon.
Collins stood on the courthouse steps and said that he was satisfied with the verdict.
"I don't think he cared one bit for the people that he did this to. I think what this was all about was the [emergency] code and the rush of adrenalin that happens during the code and not the gratification of saving somebody's life, the gratification that comes from the situation itself."
Collins added, "In other words it's analagous to the volunteer fireman who sets the fire and then sits there and watches it burn and doesn't fight the fire and then ultimately gets involved in fighting the fire. He doesn't give a damn whether the building burns down ultimately but that he was able to participate in fighting the fire."
The seven jurors interviewed after court and by telephone differed on what they thought had motivated Angelo but said that was not the critical issue in reaching their verdict.
The key was whether Angelo was aware of the risk he was taking with his patients' lives when he injected them with drugs that would paralyze their breathing.
The defense psychiatrist, Dr. Daniel Schwartz, had testified Angelo suffers from a "dissociative disorder" that gives him "strange kinds of separation from reality. " But the prosecution's two psychiatrists, Dr. Allen Reichman and Dr. Eric Block, disagreed, saying that they thought Angelo didn't disconnect the consequences of his actions from the actions until after he knew he was in trouble.
Initially, the jurors were split 6-6 on the awareness issue, and then broke down into camps of eight who believed that he was aware and four who believed that he wasn't.
"The mental health experts didn't help us out a lot," said one juror, Virginia R. Kacin. "All they did is contradict each other. " She added: "The point they couldn't agree on was when he began to dissociate, and that's the point that made it very difficult for the jury."
Another juror, Thomas Scelza, said that he was convinced "just from the beginning. I just couldn't see that he had blocked it out. The lawyers conceded that he injected people. They found Pavulon in their system and then the toxicologist's report showed that they died of Pavulon poisoning. The evidence was clear."
The split between the jurors was bridged yesterday morning after they listened to a readback of Gerolamo Kucich's testimony, according to another juror, Mary Malone. Kucich, the one victim who survived, identified Angelo as the bearded man in a white lab coat who gave him an injection "to make you feel better" just before he went into respiratory arrest, a terrifying experience that the 75-year-old Kucich described as making him call out to his mother and father for help.
That testimony, Malone said, "woke a few people up to the fact that Angelo was aware of what he was doing. "
Loguercio and other jurors explained they found Angelo not guilty of murder and guilty of second-degree manslaughter in the case of his first victim, Fisher, because they believed that at that point he was feeling inadequate and looking for a way to prove himself and may not have realized the risk.
But the jurors said they believed that as Angelo went on, he had to know that he was risking the lives of the patients he injected, Loguercio said.
In the case of the three alleged assault victims, the jurors found Angelo guilty of first-degree assault with respect to Kucich, but not guilty of any degree of assault with respect to Joan Hayes and Joseph O'Neill. Pavulon was found in the exhumed bodies of both Hayes and O'Neill, but the Suffolk County Medical Examiner's office ruled that both of them died of natural causes. But Angelo was convicted of second-degree assault in the cases of Fisher, Poultney and Greene.
"I believe he got O'Neill and Hayes," Loguercio said. "I'd bet the house on it. But the thing was that John [Collins] didn't really come up with enough evidence to prove in our minds that he did."
The Victims and the Verdicts
The seven persons Angelo was accused of killing or injuring, and the jury's verdict on the charges involving each of them:
Admitted to the hospital on Sept. 4, 1987, with signs of a stroke. By Sept. 7, his condition had stabilized. Suffered attack at 2:45 a.m. Sept. 8 and died about 20 minutes later. Guilty of second-degree manslaughter and second-degree assault.
Anthony Greene, 57, of North Babylon
Suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Seemed to be doing well until 4:26 a.m. Sept. 28, when he went into respiratory arrest. Although he was revived, he remained in a coma until Oct. 16, when he died. Guilty of second-degree murder and second-degree assault.
Frederick LaGois, 60, of Babylon
Was awaiting prostate surgery when he went into cardiac arrest Oct. 9, 1987, the night before he was to undergo the surgery. Died 12 hours later. Guilty of criminally negligent homicide.
Milton Poultney, 74, of Lindenhurst
Was recovering from gall bladder surgery when he went into cardiac arrest on Sept. 16, 1987, and died. Guilty of second-degree murder and second-degree assault.
Gerolamo Kucich, 75
Traveled more than 4,000 miles from his home in Yugoslavia to visit his son in Dix Hills when he began to experience chest pains and was taken taken to Good Samaritan. Early on the morning of Oct. 11, 1987, a man in a white coat whom he thought was a doctor came into his room, and asked him how he was feeling and injected something into his intraveneous tube. The only victim in the indictment who survived, he testified at the trial and has since returned to Yugoslavia. Guilty of two counts of first-degree assault.
Joseph Francis O'Neill, 79
A former Suffolk County assistant district attorney from West Islip, was admitted to Good Samaritan on Sept. 21, 1987, for treatment of gastrointestinal problems. Because of his advanced age and weak heart, he was placed in the hospital's intensive- and cardiac-care unit. Died that night. Not guilty of second-degree assault.
Joan Hayes, 53
Was alleged to have received her unauthorized injection of Pavulon at about the time O'Neill was being wheeled to the morgue by the nurse taking care of both of them. Two hours after O'Neill died, Hayes, who suffered from kidney problems, went into respiratory arrest and died. Not guilty of three counts of assault.
The Case of Richard Angelo
April 6, 1987: Angelo begins working as a nurse in the cardiac care/intensive-care unit of Good Samaritan Hospital in West Islip.
Oct. 9, 1987: Frederick LaGois, 60, at Good Samaritan awaiting prostate surgery, unexpectedly goes into cardiac arrest and dies.
Oct. 11, 1987: A "heavyset, bearded man in a white coat" enters the Good Samaritan Hospital room of Gerolamo Kucich, a 73-year-old cardiac-care patient. The man injects something into Kucich's intravenous tube; shortly thereafter, Kucich has trouble breathing and nearly goes into respiratory arrest. Richard Angelo , the only bearded man on duty that night, helps revive Kucich with a hand-held respirator.
Oct. 12, 1987: Hospital begins internal inquiry. A photograph of Angelo is shown to Kucich, who says he is "90-percent certain" that he was the man who injected something into his IV. Angelo is suspended from the hospital with pay, pending an investigation. He denies any wrongdoing.
Oct. 13, 1987: A nurse reports that a 10-cubic-centimeter vial of Pavulon - a drug that causes total paralysis of the major muscles of the body - is missing from the unit refrigerator.
Oct. 14, 1987: Good Samaritan reports the Kucich case to the state Health Department. After consulting the Suffolk County medical examiner, the hospital takes a sample of Kucich's urine and sends it for analysis at a Pennsylvania lab. The hospital continues its investigation and finds records of 10 patients whose hearts or breathing stopped under suspicious circumstances and either died or were saved.
Nov. 3, 1987: The Pennsylvania laboratory reports that Pavulon was found in Kucich's urine sample. Hospital officials contact Suffolk District Attorney Patrick Henry, and for the first time tell law-enforcement authorities of their suspicions. Police begin surveillance of Angelo.
Nov. 13, 1987: Newsday gets anonymous tip that the police and DA's office are investigating a series of suspicious deaths at Good Samaritan. Sources in the DA's office confirm and elaborate on details in exchange for Newsday's agreement withhold publication until Sunday, Nov. 15, to give police time to find Angelo.
Nov. 15, 1987: Angelo is arrested in Albany while attending convention of Emergency Medical Technicians. He confesses to police on his way back to Suffolk County, and agrees to confess on videotape when he arrives.
Nov. 16, 1987: Angelo is charged with assault in the Kucich case.
Nov. 19, 1987: Judge orders the exhumations of seven patients who died while Angelo was on duty. More exhumations follow, for a total to 33.
Nov. 21, 1987: Angelo pleads not guilty to three counts of assault and is ordered held without bail.
Jan. 13. 1988: Angelo is indicted on a murder charge in the death of patient Frederick LaGois.
Dec. 22, 1988: Angelo is indicted on charges of second-degree murder in the deaths of John Stanley Fisher, Anthony Greene and Milton Poultney. He was also charged with assault in connection with the death of Joan I. Hayes, and attempted assault in the death of John O'Neill.
Oct. 19, 1989: Opening arguments in trial begin.
Dec. 14, 1989: Jury returns verdict convicting Angelo of two counts of murder, one of manslaughter, one of criminally negligent homicide and one of assault not connected with the deaths.
Dele Olojede contributed to this article