Prince George's State's Attorney Arthur A. Marshall cast doubts yesterday on whether he could prosecute the case against Jane F. Bolding, the nurse who has been charged with murdering a patient at Prince George's General Hospital. Marshall said he is not convinced that police have sufficient evidence to prove that a murder was committed.
On Wednesday, county police charged Bolding, 27, with first-degree murder in the death last September of Elinor S. Dickerson, 70. According to police, Bolding admitted injecting Dickerson with potassium, causing the elderly woman to suffer a fatal heart attack.
"The first thing you've got to do is determine if there's been a murder," Marshall said yesterday, explaining that a suspect's confession alone is not necessarily sufficient to win a conviction. Marshall said an autopsy might determine whether Dickerson was murdered.
He said he was not familiar with all of the police details of the case, and did not believe an autopsy had been conducted at the time of Dickerson's death. Police, he said, have not asked his permission to exhume the woman's body.
Maj. James Ross, who is in charge of the detectives handling the case, was surprised by Marshall's statements. "We stand behind the charges," Ross said, adding that no decision about an exumation had been made.
"Holy mackerel," Bolding's attorney, Fred R. Joseph, said when informed yesterday evening of Marshall's statement. "I'm sitting here with my client and I'm very excited to hear that . . . . My client maintains her complete innocence and hopefully the state's attorney will take a second look at this case."
Joseph said he was "astonished that Mr. Marshall has candidly made that statement and I am hopeful that he'll use his good offices to see that this entire tragedy isn't compounded."
Joseph said that Bolding gave police a statement only so she would be permitted to leave after 24 hours of interrogation. Thursday, Bolding was released on a $50,000 bond that her parents guaranteed with the value of their Bladensburg home.
"There came a point when the client, without sleep, felt there was only one way that she would ever get out of there, and that was by doing what the police wanted her to do," Joseph said.
However, Cpl. F.M. McQuillan testified at a court hearing Wednesday that he told Bolding that she was free to leave during the questioning, up until the point when she "verbally admitted involvement" in Dickerson's death. He said Bolding did not ask to leave.
"I didn't sit there and say you can go right this minute," McQuillan said. "It was never brought up."
Marshall said police had "sufficient reason to proceed" with Bolding's arrest. But he said he would need more information from police before the case can be taken to a grand jury, which would determine whether to indict Bolding so that the case can go to trial.
Meanwhile, police continued to investigate the possibility that Bolding was involved in other suspicious cases of patient care at the hospital. Hospital employes say the mood there is tense, and people are subdued.
Employes have been sternly warned not to talk to reporters. "The nurses are just devastated and horrified," said Carol Bragg, president of the nurses' union. "People are just looking over their shoulders at everything they do." She also said that many of Bolding's coworkers are organizing a legal defense fund.
Marshall said problems arose yesterday when some employes apparently would not cooperate with police on the advice of Thomas Farrington, an attorney for the hospital.
Hospital spokesman Michael Canning said the friction arosecaused by the police balking when police balked at Farrington's request that the hospital be given written copies of all statements made by employes.