Nurse to plead guilty today to 3 murders in Warren County

  1. Posted on Wed, May. 19, 2004

    Nurse to plead guilty today to 3 murders in Warren County

    The 1993 killings would bring the total confirmed by Charles Cullen to 17, including one in Pa.

    By Christine Schiavo

    Inquirer Staff Writer

    Former nurse Charles Cullen is expected to plead guilty today to three murders at Warren Hospital in Phillipsburg, N.J., bringing to 17 the number of patients he will have confirmed killing in two states.

    Helen Dean, Lucy Mugavero and Mary Natoli died in 1993, 10 years before the 13 murders for which Cullen pleaded guilty April 29 in New Jersey Superior Court in Somerset County. He also has confirmed killing a 78-year-old man at Easton Hospital in Pennsylvania.

    Cullen, 44, of Bethlehem, Pa., admitted the new cases to investigators Friday, Warren County Prosecutor Thomas S. Ferguson said. Cullen has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in the five New Jersey counties and two Pennsylvania counties where he worked as a registered nurse in exchange for assurances that they will not seek the death penalty.

    The news of Cullen's involvement in 90-year-old Lucy Mugavero's death shocked her grandson Philip, 54, who said he never suspected foul play.

    "The whole time I was following the story, I never in my wildest dreams thought it would affect me," he said yesterday.

    Dean's family had suspected Cullen for a decade. Her son, Larry, who died of cancer in 2001, alerted authorities after Dean, 91, complained about an injection by a male nurse. Shortly after her death Sept. 1, 1993, police questioned Cullen and five other nurses. Cullen passed a lie-detector test, and no charges were filed.

    When arrested in December, Cullen told police that he had killed about 40 patients during his 16-year career. A month later, Ferguson got a court order to exhume Dean's body and test for digoxin, a heart stimulant Cullen was suspected of administering. Ferguson has not released the results of toxicology tests.

    Natoli, 85, of Phillipsburg, died July 23, 1993.

    Ferguson has not said what drug was used to kill any of the women. Cullen used six medications in the Somerset County cases but apparently preferred digoxin.

    Mugavero said authorities had not told him what drug killed his grandmother. He said Lucy Mugavero, a retired worker at a blouse factory, was being treated at Warren Hospital for a minor lung ailment. She had been in fairly good health, lived alone, and continued to cook and sew for her expanding family, he said.

    "We were always puzzled about why she died so suddenly," he said.

    Mugavero said the family was still coping with the April death of his mother, Doris, when Ferguson's office informed members about his grandmother.

    "We're all shocked and devastated," he said. "The timing couldn't have been worse."

    More guilty pleas are expected as Cullen, who is being held in the Somerset County jail, meets with authorities. Pennsylvania state police have interviewed him at least once about cases in Lehigh County, and investigators in Essex, Morris and Hunterdon Counties have yet to meet with him.

    He has not been formally sentenced but, under his plea agreement, would spend the rest of his life in prison.
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