Update: German ex-nurse admits at trial to killing 100 patients

A German former nurse accused of killing 100 patients in his care admitted Tuesday to the murders on the opening day of his trial.

Update: German ex-nurse admits at trial to killing 100 patients
Högel at the trial on Tuesday. Photo: DPA

Asked by the presiding judge at the court in the northern city of Oldenburg whether the charges against him were accurate, Niels Högel replied “yes”.

“What I have admitted took place,” the 41-year-old added.

A moment of silence

Immediately before the trial, Judge Sebastian Bührmann asked all those present to stand up for a minute of silence. “All their relatives deserve to be honoured,” said Bührmann, adding that this is independent of whether Högel had anything to do with their death or not.

“We will make every effort to seek the truth,” Bührmann promised.

Addressing Högel, he said: “I will negotiate fairly with you, I will negotiate openly with you in good things, and in bad.”

A public prosecutor had dealt with each of the 100 cases. Högel had already been sentenced to the maximum sentence of life imprisonment in 2015 for the death of six patients in the Delmenhorst Intensive Care Unit. 

According to the public prosecutor, Högel injected his victims with a drug that had deadly side effects. He then tried to revive the patients – which in many cases failed. His motive was said to be boredom and a craving for recognition in front of colleagues.

The trial is complex and costly. The public prosecutor's office has named 23 witnesses and 11 toxicological and forensic experts.

“We fought for four years for this trial and expect Högel to be convicted of another 100 murders,” said Christian Marbach, the spokesman for the relatives, whose grandfather was killed by Högel. “The goal is for Högel to remain in prison as long as possible.”

Not all of the more than 120 joint plaintiffs appeared on Tuesday. In the reserved rows of seats, many chairs remained empty.

'Little, vulnerable mass murderer' 

Prosecutors say at least 36 patients were killed at a hospital in Oldenburg where he worked, and about 64 more at a clinic in nearby Delmenhorst, between
2000 and 2005.

More than 130 bodies of patients who died on Högel's watch have been exhumed, in a case investigators have called “unprecedented in Germany to our knowledge”.

One of the more than 100 co-plaintiffs in the trial, Christian Marbach, said it was a scandal that Hoegel had been allowed to kill with impunity for such an extended period of time without hospital authorities or law enforcement intervening.

“They had everything they needed (to stop him) — you don't have to be Sherlock Holmes,” Marbach, the grandson of one of the patients, told AFP.

He later expressed surprise about Högel's quick confession, which was broadcast on two large screens to the courtroom audience.

“I didn't expect it to happen today,” he said.

“We now have a chance to make some real progress.”

Marbach said the defendant seemed remarkably composed as he admitted to the
extraordinary list of killings.

“He looks like a little, vulnerable mass murderer.”

200 victims?

Caught in 2005 while injecting an unprescribed medication into a patient in Delmenhorst, Högel was sentenced in 2008 to seven years in prison for attempted murder.

A second trial followed in 2014-15 under pressure from alleged victims' families, who accused prosecutors of dragging their feet.

He was found guilty of murder and attempted murder of five other victims and given the maximum sentence of 15 years.

It was then that Högel confessed to his psychiatrist at least 30 more murders committed in Delmenhorst. That prompted investigators to take a closer look at suspicious deaths in Oldenburg.

After he took the stand Tuesday, Högel said that he began taking painkillers shortly after becoming a nurse in 1999 as he felt overwhelmed by the job in the intensive care unit.

“It was the stress — I found (the work) easier on medication,” he said. “I should have quit.”

Investigators say the final toll could top 200 but fear they might never know for sure because the bodies of many possible victims were cremated.

Högel appears to have followed a similar procedure each time, first injecting a medication that triggered cardiac arrest, followed by an often futile attempt at resuscitation.

Prosecutors say he was motivated by vanity, to show off his skills at saving human lives, and by simple “boredom”.

The choice of victim appears to have been entirely random, with their ages ranging from 34 to 96.


Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Germany in talks on further payout for 1972 Olympics victims

The German government says it is in talks over further compensation for victims of the attack on the Munich Olympics, as the 50th anniversary of the atrocity approaches.

Germany in talks on further payout for 1972 Olympics victims

Ahead of the commemoration in September, relatives of the Israelis killed have indicated they are unhappy with what Germany is offering.

“Conversations based on trust are taking place with representatives of the victims’ families,” a German interior ministry spokesman told AFP when asked about the negotiations.

He did not specify who would benefit or how much money had been earmarked, saying only that any package would “again” be financed by the federal government, the state of Bavaria and the city of Munich.

On September 5th, 1972, eight gunmen broke into the Israeli team’s flat at the Olympic village, shooting dead two and taking nine Israelis hostage, threatening to kill them unless 232 Palestinian prisoners were released.

West German police responded with a bungled rescue operation in which all nine hostages were killed, along with five of the eight hostage-takers and a police officer.

An armed police officer in a tracksuit secures the block where terrorists  held Israeli hostages at the Olympic Village in Munich on 5th September 1972.

An armed police officer in a tracksuit secures the block where terrorists held Israeli hostages at the Olympic Village in Munich on 5th September 1972. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Horst Ossingert

The spokeswoman for the victims’ families, Ankie Spitzer, told the German media group RND that the amount currently on the table was “insulting” and threatened a boycott of this year’s commemorations.

She said Berlin was offering a total of €10 million including around €4.5 million already provided in compensation between 1972 and 2002 — an amount she said did not correspond to international standards. 

“We are angry and disappointed,” said Spitzer, the widow of fencing coach Andre Spitzer who was killed in the attack. “We never wanted to talk publicly about money but now we are forced to.”

RND reported that the German and Israeli governments would like to see an accord by August 15th.

The interior ministry spokesman said that beyond compensation, Germany intended to use the anniversary for fresh “historical appraisal, remembrance and recognition”.

He said this would include the formation of a commission of German and Israeli historians to “comprehensively” establish what happened “from the perspective of the year 2022”.

This would lead to “an offer of further acts of acknowledgement of the relatives of the victims of the attack” and the “grave consequences” they suffered.