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Victims’ Families Think Harvey Should Be Executed

August 19, 1987

CINCINNATI (AP) _ Relatives of some of the two dozen people poisoned by a nurse’s aide say they are hurt or angered that Donald Harvey will not face execution for the series of killings.

Harvey, 35, who worked at Drake Memorial Hospital in Cincinnati, pleaded guilty to 24 murders Tuesday in a plea bargain that spared him a possible death sentence. He was sentenced to three consecutive life prison terms, meaning he won’t be eligible for parole for 60 years.

Harvey said he poisoned his victims with cyanide, arsenic, rat poison and cleaning substances, and suffocated at least one.

Hamilton County Prosecutor Arthur Ney Jr. said he would have preferred to seek the death penalty. However, he said, the bodies of all but one of Harvey’s victims had been embalmed, making it almost impossible to detect traces of poisons in the bodies. Harvey’s confession was the primary evidence.

Relatives understood the reason for the plea bargain but thought Harvey deserved more severe punishment.

″My father didn’t get to negotiate for his life,″ said Michael Pike, son of Joseph Pike, who died March 6 at Drake.

″I think he deserves worse than the death penalty,″ said Betty Kissell, Michael Pike’s sister. ″I think every family member here today would like to see him injected with arsenic, rat poison, cleaning fluid and everything and die a slow, painful death. That’s not going to happen. But I’m sure if you talk to every family member, they’d say the same thing.″

Revelations that the victims died of poisoning or suffocation rather than natural causes stirred painful feelings in the families.

″It hurts,″ said Sandra Nelson, whose husband, Leon, was suffocated. ″We have a 13-year-old daughter who was real close to her father. She’s having a heck of a time with this. I feel like the death penalty is too good for him (Harvey). I feel like he needs to be made to suffer because he’s making families suffer.″

William Whalen, Harvey’s lawyer, has said Harvey has told authorities he killed more than the 24 victims named in this week’s indictments. But authorities say they have not been able to substantiate Harvey’s claims.

The killings included in the plea took place over four years. Twenty-one of the victims were Drake patients.

Harvey has told authorities he began his killings 16 or 17 years ago and stopped only during the eight years he worked in morgues, The Cincinnati Post reported Wednesday. Whalen said the total number of victims could be as great as 52, based on Harvey’s statements.

Harvey told prosecutors he killed 23 people at Drake, 15 at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Cincinnati, eight in an unidentified hospital outside Hamilton County and six others, Whalen said.

Ney said Harvey rambled when talking about killing other people. He was unable to provide prosecutors with enough specifics to allow indictments to be returned, Ney said.

Authorities at the VA hospital and at a Kentucky hospital where Harvey worked are investigating his activities during the time of his employment.

At Cardinal Hill Hospital in Lexington, Ky., where Harvey worked from Aug. 12, 1974, to Feb. 28, 1975, Executive Director Lyman Ginger said workers are checking records to ensure that there were no suspicious patient deaths in the hospital wing where Harvey was a nursing assistant.

He said the records of 250 patients had been checked so far, and none had died in the hospital.

The FBI and U.S. Attorney D. Michael Crites said they’re investigating Harvey’s activities while employed at the VA Medical Center as a morgue attendant from September 1975 to July 18, 1985.

Bob Sabin, associate director of the VA, has said the medical center had no unusual deaths that would place Harvey or any other VA employee under suspicion.

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