Wednesday, March 13, 2002
Ex-Glendale Adventist Worker Pleads Guilty to ‘Angel of Death’ Murders
By KIMBERLY EDDS, Staff Writer
Efren Saldivar, the former Glendale Adventist respiratory therapist who once called himself the “Angel of Death,” pled guilty yesterday to murdering six elderly patients and attempting to murder a seventh.
The plea was part of a deal with the District Attorney’s Office that helped him avoid the death penalty. Saldivar, 32, agreed to serve six consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole. He will be sentenced formally on April 17.
In the courtroom of Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lance Ito, Deputy District Attorney Al MacKenzie explained the charges and the consequences of the guilty pleas to Saldivar.
“The bottom line being you will spend the rest of your life in prison and eventually die in prison…Mr. Saldivar, is that what you wish to do today?”
“Yes,” Saldivar answered.
Prosecutors maintain that Saldivar injected seven elderly patients with the paralyzing muscle relaxer Pavulon at Glendale Adventist Medical Center in 1996 and 1997. His victims include Jose Alfaro, 82, Salbi Asatryan, 75, Myrtle Brower, 84, Balbino Castro, 87, Luina Schidlowski, 87, and Eleanora Schlegel, 77.
The attempted murder charge stems from a Feb. 26, 1997 attack on Jean Coyle, who survived and testified against Saldivar in front of the grand jury.
At a news conference after the hearing, District Attorney Steve Cooley said Pavulon is normally used to paralyze a patient before the use of artificial breathing equipment. If the equipment is not used, the patient, unable to breathe, dies.
“A respiratory therapist normally does not legitimately use these drugs to treat patients,” Cooley said.
Saldivar also admitted the two special circumstances of multiple murder and the administration of poison, both of which could have carried the death penalty.
A count of receiving stolen property, vials of the sleep-inducing drug Versed which were found during a search of his Tujunga home, was dropped as part of the deal.
The plea bargain averted a months-long trial that prosecutors said would have included over 100,000 documents and nearly 100 witnesses for the prosecution alone.
“The decision to accept Saldivar’s plea avoids a lengthy, costly trial and ensures the public that the defendant will no longer be a danger to society,” Cooley said.
Cooley said his office decided against seeking the death penalty for Saldivar because the prosecution’s case rested largely on new scientific procedures that would have been the subject of lengthy litigation before the case ever went to trial.
In 1999, the bodies of 20 former Glendale Adventist patients were exhumed and tested for numerous drugs, including Pavulon. Six of bodies tested positive for the drug.
MacKenzie added that juries do not normally return death verdicts in cases similar to Saldivar’s, seeing the defendants in these cases as “emotionally tweaked, but not insane.”
Cooley also noted that Saldivar’s confessing to the murders, recanting his confession, and then confessing a second time would also make it difficult for the prosecution to seek the death penalty.
Saldivar told police in 1998 that he may have contributed to the deaths of 100 to 200 deaths and actively killed up to 50 patients with drugs or by withholding medical treatment.
Saldivar was arrested in 1998, but released after authorities said they needed independent evidence to support his claims. He was rearrested last January and charges were filed against him.
Prosecutors said the total number of Saldivar’s victims may never be known.
“I don’t think we’ll ever know,” MacKenzie said. “Mr. Saldivar has told so many different stories, ‘I killed people, I didn’t kill people’ –we’ll never know.”
When asked if Saldivar expressed remorse over the murders, MacKenzie responded, “I think he expressed remorse today by pleading guilty.”
There were no family members of the victims present in the courtroom for the hearing, he said.
Deputy Public Defender Verah Bradford, Saldivar’s attorney, said he pled guilty “not to avoid punishment, but rather to accept responsibility and, importantly, to bring closure to the family members of the decedents, and, of course, finally now to, in his mind, make peace with God.”
Cooley said the guilty plea enhances the opportunities of family members of the victims to bring a lawsuit over the murders. Under California law, interested parties have one year from the date of judgment to file a suit, even if the statute of limitations has already run, he said.
There are currently several civil lawsuits pending in the matter, Cooley said.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company