MONTAGUE, Texas -- A former nurse who came under suspicion after a sharp increase in hospital deaths was traced to the same shift has been charged with murdering four patients with drugs and is suspected in 16 other deaths.
District Attorney Tim Cole said Wednesday he has not decided whether to seek the death penalty against 36-year-old Vickie Dawn Jackson.
He would not discuss a possible motive or say whether the nurse might have considered the deaths "mercy killings." Most of the victims were elderly.
"I personally don't find it too merciful to kill people in this way," Cole said.
Jackson was jailed on $2 million bond and had not retained an attorney Wednesday.
She was arrested Tuesday after she was indicted on two capital murder counts, each involving two patients at Nocona General Hospital, where she worked until last year. One victim -- Everett Jackson of Terral, Okla. -- was the grandfather of Jackson's estranged husband, officials said.
The investigation started last year after hospital officials realized the number of deaths in December 2000 and January 2001 was twice as high as usual. They said they traced the deaths to the same shift.
"There was one shift where she wasn't scheduled to work that night and they called her in and, lo and behold, they had a couple of deaths," said Charles Norris, the hospital's former administrator.
More charges possible
Jackson probably will be charged with three more murder counts following autopsies on six of the bodies exhumed last year, Cole said.
He said there may be 20 deaths in all, and five cases in which the victims survived, but that proving many of the cases may be too difficult.
Cole said the bodies of the four victims named in the indictment contained traces of mivacurium chloride, used to temporarily stop a patient's breathing while a breathing tube is inserted.
Several vials of the drug were reported missing from the 38-bed hospital in January 2001.
Jackson was questioned by police several times in the past year.
"We had a suspect early on but had to prove the cause of death. Usually it's the other way around," Cole said.