When Judge Sebastian Buehrmann asked 41-year-old Niels Hoegel in court if the charges against him were valid, he responded in the affirmative, adding: “All that I have admitted to is true.”
Hoegel tried to hide his face behind a plastic folder as he was ushered into the courtroom in the northern city of Oldenburg.
He had already been sentenced to 15 years in jail in 2015 after he was found guilty of killing two patients with lethal injections. In January, prosecutors brought new charges against him for killing another 97 people.
The murder charges stem from Hoegel’s time at a hospital in Oldenburg between 1999 and 2002 and at another in nearby Delmenhorst from 2003 to 2005. The alleged victims were aged between 34 and 96.
Hoegel was convicted in 2015 of two murders and two attempted murders. Then he said he intentionally brought about cardiac arrests in some 90 patients in Delmenhorst because he enjoyed the feeling of being able to resuscitate them. He later told investigators that he also killed patients in Oldenburg.
Authorities subsequently investigated hundreds of deaths, exhuming bodies of former patients.
The Oldenburg state court is conducting the trial at a courtroom set up in a conference centre, a venue chosen to accommodate a large number of co-plaintiffs and public interest in the proceedings.
Presiding Judge Buehrmann opened the proceedings by asking everyone present to stand for a minute of silence for the deceased patients.
“All of their relatives deserve that their memory be honoured,” independently of whether or not Hoegel had anything to do with their deaths, Judge Buehrmann said. “We will make every effort to seek the truth.” He promised Hoegel a fair trial.
An additional conviction could affect Hoegel’s parole chances, but there are no consecutive sentences in Germany. Prisoners serving life sentences are usually considered for parole after 15 years.
“We have fought for four years for this trial and expect Hoegel to be convicted of another 100 killings,” said Christian Marbach, representing the patients’ relatives. “The aim is for Hoegel to stay in custody as long as possible.”
The trial is scheduled to last until May. Police have said that if local health officials hadn’t hesitated in alerting authorities, Hoegel could have been stopped earlier. Authorities are pursuing criminal cases against former staff at the two medical facilities.
His admission will not end the trial, at which victims’ families hope to hear more information about the crimes.
“We want him to get the sentence that he deserves,” said Frank Brinkers, whose father died in an overdose allegedly administered by Hoegel.
Prosecutors say an investigation and toxicology reports show he injected 35 people at the clinic Oldenburg clinic and 62 in Delmenhorst.
Ten years ago, a German nurse was given a life sentence for killing 28 elderly patients, using lethal injections because he said he felt sorry for them.
In the UK, Dr Harold Shipman was believed to have killed as many as 250 people, most of them elderly and middle-aged women who were his patients. Known as Dr Death, Shipman was sentenced to 15 life terms in 2000; he died in prison in 2004, after apparently committing suicide.
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