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Woman Pleads Innocent In Excedrin-Tampering Deaths

December 15, 1987

SEATTLE (AP) _ A woman pleaded innocent Tuesday to charges that she spiked capsules of over-the-counter medicine with cyanide, killing her husband and another woman and setting off a nationwide tampering scare last year.

U.S. Magistrate Philip K. Sweigert set a Feb. 16 trial date for Stella Nickell, 44, of Auburn, who was ordered held without bail on Friday.

Prosecutors have said they believe Mrs. Nickell is the first person charged with causing a death by product tampering.

She was indicted Dec. 9 on two counts of death by product tampering in the June 1986 poisonings of her 52-year-old husband, Bruce Nickell, and another Auburn resident, Susan Katherine Snow, 40.

Both died after taking cyanide-laced Extra-Strength Excedrin capsules. Authorities have not suggested any other link between the victims.

Prosecutors and attorneys have refused to give a motive in the poisonings, and after Mrs. Nickell’s arrest, the government obtained a court order sealing most information in the case.

The Seattle Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer have quoted unidentified sources as saying Mrs. Nickell purchased at least one $20,000 insurance policy on her husband before his death.

After the insurance carriers refused to pay because of the investigation against her, she sued Excedrin manufacturer Bristol-Myers Co. and the two stores where tainted capsules were found. She alleged that Bristol-Myers sold the capsules knowing they could be tampered with.

Mrs. Nickell also was charged with three counts of product tampering. Tainted bottles were found on shelves in two area stores.

The deaths touched off a nationwide tampering scare and prompted Bristol- Myers to recall all its non-prescription medicines sold in capsule form.

Sweigert on Friday said ″the heinous nature of the crime″ required Mrs. Nickell to be detained. She could receive up to life in prison on each of the death counts and 10 years on each of three tampering counts.

In arguing that Mrs. Nickell should be held in jail for trial, Assistant U.S. Attorney Joanne Maida acknowledged that Mrs. Nickell now ″must realize that she is the only target″ in the investigation.

The federal product-tampering charge is contained in a law passed in 1983 after seven people died in the Chicago area from taking cyanide-laced Tylenol capsules.

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