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NY court hears 'Angel of Death' appeal

ALBANY, N.Y., Feb. 14 -- New York State's highest court heard arguments Wednesday in Long Island's 'Angel of Death' case as a former nurse asked that his second-degree murder conviction be reduced to manslaughter. Richard Angelo, 33, was convicted in December 1989 of killing four patients at Good Samaritan Hospital and injuring another by administering injections of the muscle relaxant, Pavolon. In a videotaped confession introduced during the eight-week trial, Angelo admitted giving the shots to sleeping patients in the hospital's intensive cardiac care unit so he could look like a hero when he revived them. Suffolk County Court Judge Alfred Tisch sentenced him in January 1990 to 61 years to life in prison for two counts of second-degree murder, one count of manslaughter, one count of criminally negligent homicide and one count of assault. In arguments before the Court of Appeals in Albany on Wednesday, Angelo's attorney, Jonathan Scott, said that Tisch had erred by refusing to admit into evidence a polygraph test that showed his client was suffering from 'dissociative disorder' at the time of the slayings, in the fall of 1987. 'Dissociative disorder pertains to a person not knowing what they are doing because they have some sort of a mental disease or defect and are not able to connect with their conduct,' Scott told the court. He said that Angelo did not realize his actions could kill the patients, so the two second-degree murder counts and their maximum sentences of 25 years to life should be thrown out and replaced with manslaughter convictions, which carry maximum sentences of eight to 25 years.

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In New York State, polygraph tests can be admitted as evidence to show a defendant's state of mind, but not to show whether or not they are guilty of a crime. Suffolk County Assistant District Attorney Michael Miller told the appeals panel that it would have made no difference in the outcome of the trial if the judge had allowed a psychiatrist testifying for thedefense to discuss the polygraph results. 'The psychiatrist got to testify about the dissociative disorder, which was his (Angelo's) defense, and whether or not he mentioned the polygraph was really irrelevant,' the prosecutor said. Miller said that prosecutors had proven that Angelo showed a reckless disregard for human life when he drugged the patients, which is enough for a second-degree murder conviction. 'He (Angelo) knew what neuro-muscular blocking agents were. He knew that if he injected people with it, they would have respiratory distress, they could possibly die. He knew he would have to intervene,' Miller said. The Court of Appeals is expected to issue a decision sometime in March.

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