German suspected serial killer nurse jailed for life

A German nurse has been sentenced to life in prison for murdering two hospital patients but authorities fear a far higher death toll after he admitted killing 30 people in a thrill-seeking life and death game.

The 38-year-old man, identified only as Niels H., has admitted to injecting his patients with lethal drug doses in a bid to try to revive them and shine as a saviour before his medical peers.

"The accused is sentenced to life in prison," said the presiding judge, finding the defendant guilty of two murders and two attempted murders, and noting the "severity" of the crimes.

The former nurse was on trial for causing the patients' deaths in an intensive care ward in northern Germany around a decade ago, but admitted during the trial that he had played his deadly game on 90 patients, leading to 30 deaths.

Authorities said Monday they would exhume the bodies of more former patients to test them for traces of the lethal doses of heart medicine amid fears H. is one of the worst serial killers in German post-war history.

The sweeping investigation is looking into some 200 fatalities recorded at the hospital where he worked and at his previous places of employment to find out whether the confirmed cases are only the tip of the iceberg.

The defendant has admitted he injected critically ill patients with lethal doses of heart medicine so he could then show off his skills in resuscitating them at the Delmenhorst hospital near the northern city of Bremen.

"Usually the decision to do it was relatively spontaneous," the handcuffed defendant -- who was not fully named under Germany's strict court reporting rules and shielded his face behind a paper folder -- told the chamber last week.

"There was tension there, and an expectation of what would happen next," said the tall and heavy-set man, who apologised to victims' relatives for his deadly obsession.

He said he felt euphoric when he managed to bring a patient back to life, and devastated when he failed. Each time he would then vow to himself to end his deadly game, he said, only to strike again soon after.

- Nurse tried to 'conquer death' -

Defence lawyer Ulrike Baumann had pleaded for a shorter term on lesser charges of manslaughter, arguing that the defendant's aim was not to take lives.

"Mr H. did not want to kill, he wanted to conquer death," she said. "There is no doubt about his guilt, but there is doubt about the severity of his guilt."

The defendant was first caught in 2005 when a colleague saw him inject a patient in Delmenhorst clinic in the northern state of Lower Saxony, where H. had worked for two years.

The patient survived, and H. was arrested. A district court in 2008 sentenced him to seven and a half years in jail for attempted murder, and he has been behind bars since.

Amid media publicity about the case, a woman contacted police, voicing suspicion that her deceased mother had also fallen victim to the nurse.

Authorities exhumed several patients' bodies and detected traces of the drug in five of them -- declaring it either the definitive or possible contributing cause.

The current trial started last September, and Thursday's guilty verdict was not expected to be the end of the harrowing case.

A former chief doctor told the trial that the use of the heart drug more than quadrupled, and the mortality rate almost doubled, during the two years H. worked in the intensive care ward, the Stuttgarter Zeitung daily reported.

A special commission of police and prosecutors dubbed "Kardio" (Cardio) is now investigating all suspicious deaths in places where the nurse once worked, also including another clinic, an elderly home and an emergency medical service.

Investigators said Monday they would soon start exhuming from cemeteries eight more bodies of patients who died at Delmenhorst, and that "other exhumations will follow".

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