CINCINNATI -- A hospital orderly nicknamed the 'Angel of Death' pleaded guilty Tuesday to murdering 24 people, most of them patients, and his lawyer said the man actually claims 54 victims.
Donald Harvey, 35, was sentenced to three consecutive life terms, making him ineligible for parole for at least 60 years.
In addition to the 24 murders for which he was indicted, Hamilton County Prosecutor Arthur Ney said Harvey confessed to five other killings, but a grand jury felt there was not enough evidence to sustain an indictment.
William Whalen, Harvey's lawyer, said his client 'told me the total of victims is 54. He hasn't given me any information that would cause me to disbelieve him.'
Whalen said Harvey told him 'all but eight were in Hamilton County.' He said the other eight victims were at a hospital outside the county but refused to reveal the location. He also declined to give specifics on any of the alleged victims.
According to personnel records at Drake Hospital, a county-owned institution where Harvey last worked, he worked briefly at St. Luke Hospital in Fort Thomas, Ky.
'Donald has asked me to notify the authorities in that jurisdiction and I will do that (Wednesday),' Whalen said. 'He wants to get all of this resolved.'
Harvey also pleaded guilty to four counts of attempted aggravated murder and one count of felonious assault.
'Harvey was considered an exceptional employee, but he always seemed to be around when someone had passed away,' Ney said at a news conference after the hearing. 'Some of the nurses nicknamed him the 'Angel of Death' or 'Kiss of Death.'
'Some nurses have said he would sometimes tell them, 'Well, I took care of another one for you.' This was just laughed off, because nobody could believe one human being could be so inhumane to another human being.'
A television station reported last week that Harvey confessed to killing 23 patients at Drake, five at the Veterans Administration Medical Center, where he worked as a morgue attendant for 10 years, and six others, some of them acquaintances.
Whalen had told the Cincinnati Enquirer that his client also claims to have killed another 10 patients at VA Medical Center, where he worked from 1975 to 1985.
However, Ney said Harvey confessed to just 29 murders and five attempted murders.
The felonious assault count, Ney said, was for an attack on his roommate.
'He did not want to kill that person, only to make him suffer,' he said. 'He is a compulsive, pathological killer. Some of us have a compulsion for malted milk or a cold beer. He's got a compulsion to kill.'
As the murder indictments were read in a hearing before Common Pleas Judge William Mathews, Harvey stood without expression, answering 'yes' when asked if he pleaded guilty on each of the counts.
Mathews said he was satisfied with the agreement.
'This means he would be 95 years old before he could even be considered for parole,' the judge said.
Ney said at the hearing that Harvey is sane and competent but a compulsive killer. Ney said Harvey builds up tension in his body and to relieve that tension, he killed.
It had been reported that the murders were mercy killings, but Ney said Harvey's motive was 'to make the patents sick and to make them suffer.'
Harvey allegedly said he killed the victims with poison, by suffocation or by injecting air into their blood.
Sandra Nelson, whose husband, Leon, was one of the 24 victims, was outraged over the plea agreement.
'I think he needs to suffer just like he's making us suffer,' Nelson said. 'If he was afraid of the electric chair, then that's what he ought to get. He is still hurting a lot of people. He is still hurting hundreds of relatives of the victims.'
Ney said it was an 'agonizing' decision not to request the death penalty but said since most of the murders to which Harvey confessed were done by cynide poisoning, it would be impossible to detect by autopsy after a body has been embalmed.
If all his claims are true, 54 victims would make Harvey one of the worst serial killers in U.S. history.
Henry Lee Lucas, a former mental patient arrested in Texas in 1983, confessed to killing more than 600 people across the country from 1975 until he was arrested. He later told authorities all but three of his confessions were hoaxes intended to delay his execution.
The most prolific confirmed serial killer was John Wayne Gacy, who killed 33 boys and young men between 1972 and 1977 and buried most of their bodies under his home in suburban Chicago.
Gerald Eugene Stano confessed in 1982 to murdering 33 women -- 31 in Florida and two in New Jersey -- and admitted six other killings in Florida. He may be linked, however to as many as 40 murders.