Two registered nurses were found guilty today of using paralyzing drug injections to poison five of their patients at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Filipina Narciso, 31, was found innocent of the only murder charge in the case and was acquitted of one poisoning charge. Leonora Perez, 33, was found guilty of all three poisoning charges against her.
Both women also were convicted of consporing to poison hospitalized veterans.
The nurses face possible life prison terms on the poisoning charges, the same maximum sentence as murder. Conspiracy carries a maximum penalty of a $10,000 fine and five years in prison.
Narciso and Perez, allowed to remain free on $75,000 bond, left for their homes in the Ann Arbor area without talking to reporters.
"They're overwhelmed by what's happened. They're shocked. There's disbelief," said Edward Stein, one of the nurses' four lawyers.
The defense attorneys said they would appeal the verdict.
The jury had spent 94 hours in secret deliberations over the past 15 days.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Yanko, chief prosecutor on the long and difficult case, told reporters that he was "pleased and satisfied, but not surprised" by the verdict.
Narciso and Perez are citizens of the Philippines who immigrated to the United States six years ago hoping to become American citizens. Their case has attracted international attention, especially in their homeland.
The jury convicted the women of acting together to poison one patient and of acting separately to poison two patients each.
In reaching its decision, the jury had to weight the confusing and often conflicting statements of 100 witnesses, whose testimony during three months of trial filled more than 6,500 pages of court transcripts.
Narciso and Perez were charged with poisoning and conspiring to poison eight hospitalized veterans who suffered sudden and medically surprising breathing failures during the summer of 1975.
Seven of them were revived by doctors and nurses who quickly provided artificial respiration. One died before help came, and Narciso was accused of murdering him.
In each case, according to federal authorities, the weapon was a disposable hypodermic syringe filled with a potentially lethal dose of Pavulon, a paralyzing drug used to immobilize a patient's muscles for surgery.
Pavulon paralyzes the body, including the muscles essential for breathing, within seconds. Death by suffocation comes quickly and quietly unless help arrives.
The charges that finally went to the jury represented only a fraction of some 20 suspected murders and poisoning committed with Pavulon at the 400-bed VA hospital during July and August, 1975, when a bizarre epidemic of breathing failures swept the wards.
The prosecution's case was circumstantial. No witness at the trial claimed to have seen the nurses inject any patient with Pavulon. No witness claimed to have heard the women planning to poison patients. No motive was proposed to explain the strange conspiracy described by the prosecution.
The prosecution case depended on advanced laboratory technology and complicated medical testimony to convince the jury that each victim had been injected with Pavulon only moments before suffering paralysis and total loss of breathing.
The circumstantial case was then built through witnesses who placed the nurses near the victims just before each suspicious breathing failure - the precise moment, according to the prosecutors, when the deadly drug must have been injected.
The defense argued that some of rect the jury's suspicion toward other sulted from natural causes.
The defense also attempted to direct the jury's suspicion toward other staff members, including a nursing assistant who was granted immunity from prosecution, a nursing supervisor who killed herself early this year after a mental breakdown and an unidentified man in a surgeon's green uniform who was seen near some of the victims.