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Law

Ex-nurse agrees to plea deal

Man has reportedly confessed to killing dozens of patients


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(CNN) -- A former nurse who prosecutors say has confessed to killing dozens of patients in New Jersey and Pennsylvania hospitals is expected to plead guilty to murder charges Thursday morning.

Prosecutors reached a plea agreement Wednesday afternoon with Charles Cullen, according to sources close to the negotiations.

The deal, which will spare Cullen from the death penalty, is expected to be formally announced in a 10:30 a.m. hearing Thursday in Somerset County, New Jersey, sources said.

Cullen was initially charged in December with one count of murder and one count of attempted murder. Cullen later said he killed dozens of patients in more than a decade working as a nurse.

In the deal, Cullen will plead guilty to 13 murders of patients in Somerset Medical Center and to the 1998 murder of a man at a hospital in Easton, Pennsylvania, sources said.

"What this plea means is that he will provide cooperation in the investigation of murders he may have committed in hospitals and nursing homes in seven counties in New Jersey and Pennsylvania from 1984 to 2003," said John Haggerty, spokesman for the New Jersey attorney general's office, which helped broker the plea agreement.

Cullen received his degree as a registered nurse in 1987 but spent three years in nursing school beginning in 1984.

He will be sentenced at a later date and remain in New Jersey custody, despite the guilty plea in the murder of the Pennsylvania man.

He was expected to begin cooperating immediately with investigators looking into dozens of other patient deaths.

"His cooperation will be crucial to providing the truth regarding the number, circumstances and details [of his victims]," Haggerty said.

Cullen also is expected to provide information that could help officials establish new laws or regulations designed to prevent such serial killings -- by making it possible for hospitals share information about questionable staff members with one another or with state agencies.

Cullen claimed to have killed between 12 and 15 patients at Somerset Medical Center, where he worked for several years, and as many as 40 patients at 10 other medical facilities where he worked, Somerset County prosecutor Wayne Forrest told reporters in December.

"He purposely caused the deaths by the improper administration of various medications," Forrest told reporters when the original charges were filed. "He asserted that his motive was to alleviate pain and suffering in these cases."

Cullen was initially charged with murder in the death of a Catholic priest who entered Somerset Medical Center for treatment of heart disease. The priest was found to have lethal levels in his system of the drug digoxin, a heart medication.

The original attempted murder charge involved a female patient who had cancer and heart disease. She recovered from an overdose of the same drug that killed the priest, Forrest said.

Cullen was fired from the Somerset Medical Center after an investigation of six patients with abnormal lab results showed him as the only common denominator.

Other New Jersey and Pennsylvania counties where Cullen worked during his nursing career are reviewing their hospital records in a search for possible victims.


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