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Investigation of former nurse widens

Police are investigating claims by Charles Cullen that while he was a nurse he killed as many as 40 patients.
Police are investigating claims by Charles Cullen that while he was a nurse he killed as many as 40 patients.

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CNN's Michael Okwu says prosecutors are widening an investigation into patient deaths connected to nurse Charles Cullen
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- New Jersey prosecutors have widened their investigation of a former nurse charged with the murder and attempted murder of two patients.

The broader investigation comes as family members in New Jersey and Pennsylvania request inquiries into their relatives' deaths.

"We've received 50 calls from family members since yesterday," Somerset County, New Jersey, prosecutor Wayne Forrest told CNN. "In 28 years of my legal career, I've never seen a case like this."

New Jersey Attorney General Peter Harvey said Wednesday his office may step in to coordinate the growing number of investigations involving Charles Cullen, whom prosecutors said claims to have killed 30 to 40 patients over a 16-year period.

Cullen, 43, is charged with the murder of Rev. Florian Gall, a patient at Somerset Medical Center in Somerville, New Jersey. He is also charged with the attempted murder of another patient there.

"I am going to plead guilty. I don't plan to fight this," Cullen said in a brief court appearance Monday.

Forrest said earlier this week that Cullen "asserted that his motive was to alleviate pain and suffering in these cases."

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Cullen voluntarily surrendered his nurse's license Wednesday.

New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey said pending state legislation would help give authorities the ability to track nurses under investigation when they apply for new jobs.

"It breaks down the secrecy, it requires hospitals to report this information," McGreevey said.

Cullen had been treated for depression at a psychiatric hospital and twice tried to commit suicide, according to Phillipsburg, New Jersey, police reports. Psychiatric treatment does not disqualify a nurse from continuing to practice.

Meanwhile, at the 10 hospitals in New Jersey and Pennsylvania where Cullen worked, authorities are combing through patient files looking for evidence that he could have been involved in other deaths.

Saint Luke's Hospital in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, investigated Cullen last year after a nurse discovered vials of heart and blood pressure drugs improperly placed in a needle bin.

"We had enough suspicion, certainly no proof, but some suspicion based on Charles Cullen's evasiveness," St. Luke's Hospital spokesperson Susan Shantz said.

Cullen resigned the day after the investigation began.

Prosecutors in New Jersey are reopening a case involving the death of Helen Dean, a 91-year-old patient at Warren Hospital in Phillipsburg, New Jersey, where Cullen worked for two years.

When she was discharged from the hospital in 1993, Dean complained to relatives that Cullen had given her an unexpected injection in her leg, Dean's niece Sharon Jones told CNN. Dean died the next day. Hospital officials said an autopsy found no evidence of wrongdoing.


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