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Drugs Linked to Indiana Nurse Case

January 2, 1998

NEWPORT, Ind. (AP) _ In mid-1994, the same year he was praised in a job evaluation for his tenderness as a nurse, something went terribly wrong in the life of Orville Lynn Majors.

The normally calm and caring Majors became irritable and would fly into wild-eyed rages when criticized or prevented from getting his way, former co-workers at Vermillion County Hospital say. His patients, whom he had begun to call ``whiners″ and ``white trash,″ began dying in alarming numbers.

This week, the 36-year-old licensed practical nurse was arrested and jailed without bail on charges of murdering six patients with injections.

In court papers, prosecutors suggest the reason for his change in personality was drugs, stolen from the hospital pharmacy. He allegedly was using and selling the drugs.

Majors’ supporters say investigators need a scapegoat after spending almost three years and $1.5 million looking into the cases of 147 people who died while Majors worked there from 1993 to 1995.

``I think they spent a lot of money on this investigation and they just had to do something,″ says his sister, Debbie McClelland.

The hospital, now known as West Central Community Hospital, is in Clinton, a town of about 5,000 people 15 miles north of Terre Haute. About half of its patients are 70 or older.

The six victims ranged in age from 56 to 89, and all were said to be in stable condition before they died suddenly.

McClelland refuses to believe her brother murdered them: ``I believe they died because they were sick.″

Indeed, authorities investigated all the deaths but filed charges only in those cases that seemed strong enough to bring to a jury. Prosecutor Mark Greenwell said Wednesday other charges aren’t likely to be filed, but ``we’re not shutting off the possibility of new evidence coming forward.″

An affidavit released Monday offers the first complete look at what authorities have done since a March 1995 phone call alerted them that something was wrong at the hospital.

It describes how co-workers told police that he would refer to patients’ families with disgust and made fun of poor people.

In November 1994, two hospital employees asked Majors why he was standing alone at an elderly woman’s bed.

``I’m just sitting here waiting for the woman to die,″ Majors is said to have told them.

According to the two fellow employees, the patient coughed and Majors cheered, ``C’mon baby, c’mon baby,″ before calling for help. The woman later died.

The affidavit also suggests a reason for Majors’ personality change: Tony Towell told investigators Majors offered in 1995 to sell him ``a serious drug″ and a ``heart stimulant″ contained in a vial of clear liquid that Majors said had been taken from the hospital pharmacy. Towell, who had come to install a furnace at Majors’ business, said Majors appeared to be high at the time.

Police searches of Majors’ former home and a van that he used turned up a variety of drugs, including potassium chloride, along with syringes and needles. Potassium chloride is used in hospitals to control irregular heartbeat; it can kill at high concentrations.

Doctors said four of the six victims may have died from injections of potassium chloride. Investigators have not said what substance was used in the two other deaths.

Authorities exhumed the bodies of 15 patients who died at the hospital, including the six victims named in the charges. They interviewed family members, hospital employees and other patients. In two of the six cases in which he is charged with murder, witnesses said they saw Majors give injections to patients just before they died.

In one of those cases, Paula Holdaway said she was in the room when Majors came in and gave her mother, Dorothea Hixon, an injection.

``Majors kissed her on the forehead, brushed her hair back and said `It’s all right, Punkin, everything’s going to be all right now,‴ according to court papers. Within a minute, Hixson’s eyes rolled back, and she died.

In a third case, a nurse said she saw Majors standing over a patient’s bed with a syringe just before the person was found dead. In the other three cases he was the last person seen with the patients.

Central to the prosecution’s case is an extensive computer analysis of deaths at the hospital from 1991 to 1996. It found that patients were nearly 24 times more likely to die on days when Majors on duty. The $300,000 analysis, completed in November, concludes there was an epidemic of deaths _ 67 in all _ in the last six months of 1994. Sixty-three of those deaths occurred when Majors was working.

Prosecutors do not plan to seek the death penalty. Majors could get 40 to 60 years in prison on each charge.

His lawyer, I. Marshall Pinkus, disputed the allegations.

``If you really believed that Lynn was a murderer, how could you let him walk free in the community for three years?″ Pinkus asked. He said the computer analysis was ``based on incorrect facts.″

Majors’ arrest brought relief to some families struggling to understand how loved ones died. But for others, there are still unanswered questions.

James Stillwell’s 87-year-old mother, Doris Stillwell, died in 1994 after entering the hospital for a gallstone operation. Majors has not been charged in that death.

``It frustrates me,″ Stillwell said. ``It makes you wonder: Were they victims or weren’t they victims?″

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