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'Angel of Death' talked of easing patients’ suffering

By NANCY MEERSMAN Union Leader Staff

News - January 16, 2003

Jurors yesterday heard self-described “Angel of Death” John Walter Bardgett boasting in a recorded telephone conversation that he knew better than the doctors how to ease patients’ last days.

Prosecutors allege the 26-year-old registered nurse eased the pain of at least two patients at the Harborside Healthcare-Northwood Nursing Home in Bedford by deliberately killing them with morphine injections.

Bardgett went on trial in Hillsborough County Superior Court yesterday on two counts of second-degree murder in the Sept. 9, 2001, death of Clara Hamm, 92, and the Sept. 10, 2001, death of Dorothy Koch, 91.

“The evidence will show he murdered Dorothy Koch and Clara Hamm,” said Assistant Attorney Gen. Robert S. Carey.

Bardgett’s lawyer Peter Anderson, of McLane, Graf, Raulerson and Middleton, argued that the elderly women both died of terminal illnesses and did not expire from morphine overdoses while patients in the 30 Colby Court home behind Wal-Mart in Bedford.

He said experts of international repute in the field of end-of-life care and a toxicology expert will testify that the patients did not die as the result of anything Bardgett did.

The state’s chief medical examiner, Dr. Thomas A. Andrew, is expected to testify for the prosecution that the cause of the death of both women was acute opiate intoxication and the manner of their death was homicide.

“Experts will be giving opposing opinions on the cause of death,” Anderson said. “Use your common sense to determine which side’s experts have got it right.”

Anderson said the morphine dosages administered to Koch and Hamm were consistent with what their doctors ordered, but the method was not consistent.

“ He acknowledges it was wrong to give them morphine intravenously ,” the defense attorney said.

Jurors should consider whether this was criminal conduct or a matter that should have been dealt with by state nursing regulators, Anderson said.

He said they should weigh whether Bardgett intended to kill his patients, or give them comfort at the end of life.

In his opening statement to jurors, Carey said a witness would testify that Bardgett told her he killed three patients at the nursing home , the third being Helen Peyant, 71, who died on Sept. 1, 2001. Her body had been cremated before the investigation began and could not tested for morphine.
Carey said a nurse accused Bardgett, saying, “You just killed Clara” and Bardgett responded:

“I’ve taken care of Helen. I’ve taken care of Clara, and now I’m going to take care of Dorothy . . . I killed another one, I killed Clara.”

The state’s first witness was Karen Turner, the licensed practical nurse who alerted authorities that she saw Bardgett inject morphine into the wrist of Koch without a doctor’s order to give morphine intravenously.

Turner telephoned Bardgett, as State Police investigators recorded the conversation, to get him to discuss his care of patients.

As prosecutors played the recording in the courtroom yesterday, Bardgett is heard saying he started an intravenous drip on Hamm so he wouldn’t have to “stick her in the arm every hour.”

He complained that another nurse was writing up a complaint on him because Hamm, as a hospice patient, was to be kept comfortable but was not to get an IV for any reason.

“Tell me, which is more invasive?” Bardgett demands angrily. He insists protocols requiring him to be “stabbing them every hour” with shots to the muscle are wrong.

Then Turner asks about another patient, “How’s Dorothy?”
Bardgett replies that Dorothy Koch has expired.

“Dead,” he says. “I did it that night. I did it, killed her.” Then he qualifies his remarks, “Not really. I helped her to her grave.”

Turner then asks him if he gave Koch an injection of morphine into muscle or into the vein. He was prohibited from injecting morphine into the vein without an order from Koch’s doctor.

He replies, “Only myself and the Good Lord knows what I did.”

Bardgett’s attorney told jurors that Bardgett’s own nicknames for himself, “Angel of Death” or “Angel of Mercy” had “no sinister meaning,” but only referred to the fact that he had encountered many deaths while working as an emergency medical technician.

Anderson said Bardgett’s statements “I killed this patient” or “I killed that patient” were also meaningless — just the remarks of a socially immature, cocky young man who had a tendency to make inappropriate comments he now regrets.

He urged jurors to see through the state’s attempt to “make a murder case of the careless comments of a 25-year-old.”

Originally Posted at: The Eagle-Tribune

Thursday, August 15, 2002
Prosecutor: Nurse admitted mercy killings
By Krista Zanin
Staff Writer

John Walter Bardgett, 25, of Salem was seen "jaunting and bobbing" down the hall and boasted about the deaths of two elderly nursing home patients after he allegedly gave them fatal injections of morphine, a prosecutor said yesterday.

"I killed another. I just killed Clara," Bardgett allegedly told a nurse just after the death of Clara Hamm, 92, a patient at Harborside Healthcare-Northwood in Bedford, and hours after the death of another patient, Dorothy Koch, 91, said Assistant New Hampshire Attorney General Michael Delaney. The women died within seven hours of each other during a September 2001 weekend shift Bardgett worked.

Another nurse has told prosecutors she overheard Bardgett say "goodbye" to Hamm after he allegedly gave her the fatal injection during his September 2001 weekend shift, Delaney said yesterday during a hearing in Hillsborough County Superior Court.

"They were both allegedly injected with morphine within seven hours of each other," Delaney said. "The defendant referred to himself to colleagues as the 'angel of death.' "

Bardgett, who contends he was authorized to give the pain medication, is charged with two counts of second-degree murder and four counts of first-degree assault for allegedly giving the women unauthorized doses of morphine.

Delaney said Bardgett gave Koch as "astronomical" amount of morphine.

Delaney revealed new details about the deaths of both women during a hearing yesterday.

The prosecutor said Bardgett killed both women because he "believed he was in a position" to determine their quality of life.

Bardgett is scheduled to go on trial in January.

Delaney wants Judge James J. Barry Jr. to allow prosecutors to try Bardgett on both murder charges during one trial because they believe the former nurse used "a common scheme" to kill both women.

Bardgett, who grew up in Kingston, previously worked for both the Kingston and Danville fire departments.

He was fired from Holy Family Hospital in Methuen, Mass., in June 2001 after working three months in the intensive care unit, hospital President William Lane has said. Bardgett was fired at the end of his nursing experience because hospital officials felt he needed more basic nursing training.

Hospital officials reviewed patient records after Bardgett was arrested in New Hampshire, but found nothing improper, Lane has said.

Koch was suffering from end-stage liver cancer, while Hamm was being treated as a hospice patient and also was dying.

They both died within one hour of receiving the injections of what the state medical examiner classified as acute opiate intoxication, a drug overdose.

Relatives of both women appeared in court yesterday, but declined comment.

Bardgett, who remains free on bail, sat quietly and expressionless in court.

Since he was arrested, Bardgett has been forbidden to enter a medical facility unless he has a scheduled appointment or an emergency need for medical treatment.

Bardgett's lawyer, Peter D. Anderson of Manchester, said Bardgett was authorized to give the injections.

"These women ... were very sick," Anderson said. "For the state medical examiner and state to claim the defendant's actions are the cause of death, (that's) a real stretch."

Anderson said Bardgett called Hamm's physician and got permission to give her morphine.

He said Bardgett only gave Hamm half the dose that was prescribed by the doctor.

And there were standing orders that nurses could administer morphine to Koch, which they had done in the 10 days before she died, Anderson said.

"The morphine injections at issue were administered at least 50 percent by other nurses," Anderson said.

Anderson said Bardgett's comments after the women died may have been "ill-advised," but don't indicate he had intent to kill.

"There were no statements during the course or before a crime that would be indicative of intent," Anderson said.

Nurses who encountered Bardgett after the women died told prosecutors he smirked and appeared arrogant and happy.

A funeral director who was removing one of the bodies called Bardgett's behavior "unusual ... almost as if he was on a natural high," Delaney said.

Prosecutors contend Bardgett injected morphine into Koch intravenously despite doctor's orders she only receive the pain medication in an injection under her skin, not in her veins.

They also allege Bardgett lied to Hamm's doctor to get the morphine prescription and gave her the drug without alerting her family as he was required to do.

Anderson argued that prosecuting both cases at the same time wouldn't be fair to Bardgett. He said the cases should be split because Bardgett may want to testify in one case, but not the other.

"The court should sever these matters," he said.

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