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Prosecutors Seek 230-Year Sentence For Stella Nickell

June 16, 1988

SEATTLE (AP) _ A woman convicted of lacing pain medication with cyanide and causing the deaths of her husband and a stranger should be sentenced to 230 years in prison, federal prosecutors said.

Stella Nickell, who faces sentencing Friday, ″has forfeited her right to walk among society for the remainder of her natural life,″ U.S. Attorney Gene Anderson and Assistant U.S. Attorney Joanne Maida wrote in a three-page sentencing memorandum filed Wednesday.

Before Mrs. Nickell’s sentencing, however, U.S. District Judge William Dwyer is to rule on her motion for a new trial.

Defense attorney Thomas Hillier asked for a new trial on grounds that one of the jurors didn’t tell the court during jury selection that, three months before Mrs. Nickell’s trial, the juror accepted $500 in an out-of-court settlement in her own product-contamination lawsuit against a cracker manufacturer.

Prosecutors have asked Dwyer to turn down the request, saying there was no evidence that the juror, Laurel Holliday, was prejudiced against the defendant. They noted that Ms. Holliday was the lone holdout for acquittal for 4 1/2 days of deliberations before changing her vote.

On May 9, the jury convicted Mrs. Nickell, 44, of suburban Auburn of five counts of product tampering, including two that resulted in the June 1986 deaths of her husband, Bruce Nickell, and Susan Snow, also of Auburn. Both died after taking Extra-Strength Excedrin capsules that had been laced with cyanide.

Prosecutors alleged Mrs. Nickell killed her husband because she was tired of him and wanted to collect $176,000 in life insurance benefits. They said Mrs. Snow, who had no connection with the couple, was an innocent victim of a plot to make Nickell’s death appear to be the work of a random killer.

Mrs. Nickell is the first person to have been convicted of the federal charge of causing a death by product tampering.

In his sentencing memorandum, also filed Wednesday, Hillier said his client ″continues to maintain that she is innocent.″ He said he would make additional arguments if Mrs. Nickell is to be sentenced.

In addition to the tamperings that caused the deaths, Mrs. Nickell was convicted of one count of putting cyanide in a second bottle of Extra-Strength Excedrin found in her home and two counts of tampering with two other bottles containing cyanide-contaminated pain capsules found on store shelves in Auburn and Kent. Those convictions carry possible 10-year sentences.

The deaths set off a nationwide tampering scare and caused Excedrin manufacturer Bristol-Myers to recall its non-prescription capsule medicines.

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