Court acquits nurse of killing patients

A Dutch nurse who served more than six years of a life sentence for allegedly murdering seven patients was exonerated Wednesday, and the country’s attorney general personally apologized for her ordeal.

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands — A Dutch nurse who served more than six years of a life sentence for allegedly murdering seven patients was exonerated Wednesday, and the country’s attorney general personally apologized for her ordeal.

Lucy de Berk, who spent her teenage years in Canada, was released from prison in 2008 pending retrial after an extraordinary review of her conviction — which had been upheld by the country’s Supreme Court.

Prosecutors recognized errors in the case and had asked for an acquittal at the end of her retrial last month.

A beaming De Berk, 49, told reporters she was delighted after the verdict was read at Arnhem Appeals Court.

“I’ll have to let it sink in a little while,” she said.

Attorney General Harm Brouwers said he wanted to restore De Berk’s reputation.

“I’ve offered my apologies for what happened to her,” Brouwers said, adding that the ministry was negotiating a financial settlement with her lawyers.

Brouwers said prosecutors had acted in good faith in what he called a “complicated” case, but had relied on testimony by experts who proved mistaken.

De Berk, who had a history of depression and worked as a prostitute in Vancouver and the Netherlands, was arrested in 2001 after a six-month-old baby died while De Berk was on duty in a hospital in The Hague, in an incident initially thought to have been a poisoning.

After De Berk’s arrest, investigators uncovered what they saw as a trend of deaths and near-deaths in suspicious circumstances while she was alone with patients.

Prosecutors charged her with 13 killings and five attempted murders in Dutch hospitals between 1997 and 2001.

She was convicted of three murders in 2003, centring on the baby’s death, and sentenced to life in prison as a serial murderer. Prosecutors at the time said De Berk may have seen herself as an angel of mercy, delivering death to patients who were suffering.

Trial judges also considered testimony by a statistician who put the odds at one in 342 million that it was mere coincidence she had been on duty when all the incidents deemed suspicious occurred.

That calculation was challenged and later proved bogus, but appeals judges upheld De Berk’s sentence and convicted her on four additional counts of murder and three of attempted murder.

Her sentence was unusually heavy by Dutch standards, in part because De Berk continued to deny wrongdoing and had shown no remorse.

During her initial trial, judges accepted as evidence entries in De Berk’s diaries in which she wrote about a “strange compulsion” and a secret she would take with her to her grave. On Nov. 27, 1999, the day an elderly woman died in her care, she wrote that she had “given in” to her compulsion.

Wednesday’s ruling found there were no signs the elderly woman’s death was unnatural and there were many innocent explanations for the diary entries. It formally dismissed all charges.

“With respect to the other deaths and life-threatening incidents, the court believes that investigations have uncovered no facts or circumstances that could give grounds for suspecting an unnatural cause,” the ruling said.

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