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Nurse in Germany given life sentence for murdering 85 patients

He already spent a decade in prison following a previous life sentence he received for six other murders.

Niels Högel
Niels Högel
Image: DPA/PA Images

A 42-YEAR-OLD nurse has been sentenced to life in prison for murdering 85 patients in Germany. 

Niels Hoegel murdered patients, selected at random, with lethal injections between 2000 and 2005 before he was caught in the act.

Judge Sebastian Buehrmann called Hoegel’s killing spree “incomprehensible” and acknowledged the trial left many families with painful unanswered questions. 

Hoegel has already spent a decade in prison following a previous life sentence he received for six other murders.

The exhumation and autopsy of more than 130 bodies were necessary to build the case for the prosecution.

Police suspect that Hoegel’s final death toll may be more than 200.

But the court was unable to say for sure because of gaps in Hoegel’s memory and because many likely victims were cremated before autopsies could be performed.

Buehrmann of the regional court in the northern city of Oldenburg said the number of deaths at Hoegel’s hands “surpasses human imagination”.

“Your guilt is unfathomable,” he said. 

“Sometimes one’s worst nightmares fail to capture the truth.”

He expressed regret that the court had not been “fully able to lift the fog” for loved ones about other likely victims.

On the final day of hearings on Wednesday, Hoegel asked his victims’ families for forgiveness for his “horrible acts”. 

“I would like to sincerely apologise for everything I did to you over the course of years,” he said.

Caught in 2005 while injecting an unprescribed medication into a patient in Delmenhorst, Hoegel was sentenced in 2008 to seven years in prison for attempted murder.

A second trial followed in 2014 under pressure from alleged victims’ families.

He was found guilty of murder and attempted murder of five other victims and given the maximum sentence of life.

At the start of the third trial in October, Buehrmann said its main aim was to establish the full scope of the killing that was allowed to go unchecked for years. 

“It is like a house with dark rooms, we want to bring light into the darkness,” he said.

Christian Marbach, whose grandfather was killed by Hoegel and who has served as a victims’ representative, welcomed the “big and clear verdict”. 

“It can’t satisfy us entirely. It is what was legally possible,” he said.

Marbach said the families would now file suit against the two hospitals where Hoegel killed patients.

“We’re finished with the defendant. Now we can bring those people to justice who made his crimes possible,” he said.

After admitting on the first day of testimony to killing 100 patients in his care, Hoegel later revised his statement.

He now says he committed 43 murders but denies five others.

For the remaining 52 cases examined by the court, he says he cannot remember whether he “manipulated” his victims — his term for administering the deadly injections.

Psychiatrist Max Steller told the court during the trial that while Hoegel bears responsibility for his acts, he suffers from a “severe narcissistic disorder”.

He “is always fundamentally ready to lie if that allows him to put himself in a better light,” Steller said.

- © AFP 2019

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