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Neonatal nurse found guilty of murdering 7 babies in her care


LONDON — A jury in northwest England found a former neonatal nurse accused of killing seven babies guilty of murder — bringing an end to a 10-month trial that fascinated and outraged the country.

On Friday, after days of deliberations, the 11-person jury in Manchester found Lucy Letby, 33, guilty of murdering seven babies, and attempting to murder six more, the BBC, the U.K.’s public broadcaster, reported. She was found not guilty of two counts of attempted murder, while the jury was undecided on the attempted murder of another four babies, it added.

The verdicts mean Letby is the worst child serial killer in modern U.K. history, British media reported, with the judge reportedly describing it as “a most distressing and upsetting case.”

During the course of the trial, which began in October of last year, prosecutors alleged that Letby killed five boys and two girls and attempted to kill another five boys and five girls in the hospital’s neonatal unit by poisoning them with insulin, injecting air into their veins or overfeeding them with milk.

They accused Letby of being a “constant malevolent presence” at the Countess of Chester Hospital in Chester, England, where she worked. The incidents happened between 2015 and 2016, when the unit experienced an unusual increase in neonatal deaths and collapses.

The thought that a nurse charged with taking care of the most vulnerable babies could kill had horrified the British public, and the details emerging from Letby’s trial have attracted widespread attention.

Letby insisted throughout the trial that she was innocent of the charges, and claimed that she was being scapegoated by certain doctors at the neonatal unit who did not want to acknowledge the hospital’s own “failings” in caring for the newborns.

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The verdict comes after Judge James Goss asked the jury on Aug. 8 to come to a unanimous agreement on the charges, but said that if they could not, agreement among 10 of the jurors — also known as a majority verdict — would be sufficient.

“The time has now come when it is possible for me to accept verdicts upon which you are not all agreed,” Goss said in court on Aug. 8, according to the British outlet, the Independent. The jury was initially made up of 12 jurors, but one was discharged for “good personal reasons,” the judge said earlier this month, per the outlet.

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During the trial, prosecutors made the case that Letby, a nurse from Hereford, about 94 miles south of Chester, took advantage of her position as a nurse in charge of vulnerable, premature babies to harm and kill — and alleged that when she did not succeed in killing a baby, she tried again.

In court, Letby testified that she did not intentionally hurt any of the babies in her care. She said the charges against her “completely changed” her life and “made me question everything about myself,” according to the Daily Mirror.

As The Washington Post reported, at the start of the trial, prosecutor Nick Johnson told the court that a premature baby who was killed in June 2015, one day after he was born, is believed to be Letby’s first victim. Doctors noticed that child A, as he was identified in court for privacy reasons, had an “odd discoloration” on his skin, Johnson reportedly said. An autopsy could not determine his cause of death.

An expert who looked into the case said the most likely cause was air injected into the bloodstream “by someone who knew it would cause significant harm,” the prosecutor said.

The baby’s twin sister, Child B, also suffered from dangerously low oxygen levels some 28 hours after her brother died. Employees resuscitated her, and she survived, but Johnson told the courtroom that the back-to-back cases showed “these were no accidents,” the Times of London reported.

Other incidents were initially chalked up to natural causes before hospital workers became alarmed, Johnson said.

Prosecutors told the jury that some of Letby’s colleagues expressed concerns about her work before she was transferred to an office role in the summer of 2016, according to the BBC. Police were called to investigate the babies’ unexpected deaths and collapses in 2017, and their review of the evidence suggested that two children were poisoned with insulin by someone at the neonatal unit, Johnson said.

The children — identified as child F and child L — survived after doctors treated them for a sudden and dangerous drop in blood sugar levels, Johnson said.

Letby was on duty when the newborns were allegedly poisoned — and was present every time “things took a turn for the worse for these 17 children,” Johnson said. The prosecution said the rise in deaths or serious deterioration of babies at Countess of Chester Hospital coincided with Letby’s shift schedule: When she worked nights, those incidents increased, and when she was moved to day shifts, they also increased, Johnson said.

Letby’s lawyers said in court that the babies’ deaths could have been due to other causes, and said the number of neonatal babies being admitted to the unit where Letby worked rose between 2015 and 2016. They said Letby was a “hard-working, dedicated and caring” nurse, according to Nursing Times.

Letby was detained for questioning three times by Chester police in connection with their investigation into the incidents, and she was formally charged in November 2020.

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It is not the first case of a health care professional charged with murdering patients: In 2022, Netflix released “The Good Nurse,” a movie based on the true story of Charles Cullen, a New Jersey nurse who admitted to murdering 29 patients and trying to kill six others. Cullen, who was sentenced to 11 consecutive life sentences and is incarcerated at the New Jersey State Prison, was suspected of killing hundreds of people over a period of years in hospitals in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

POST AUTHOR: Annabelle Timsit

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