Hospital killer goes to court

Petr Zelenka, photo: CTK

An unprecedented case in Czech criminal history, which shocked the public last year, has finally come to court. Petr Zelenka, a 31-year old male nurse who worked in a hospital in eastern Bohemia’s Havlíčkův Brod, stands accused of murdering seven patients and attempting to kill at least ten others by injecting them with heparin, a blood-thinning drug which can be fatal if administered in excess.

Petr Zelenka,  photo: CTK
The hospital murders took place between May and September 2006, at a time when Petr Zelenka was promoted to head nurse and put in charge of the entire intensive care unit. Given the relatively high number of deaths in intensive care, it took seven months before anyone in the hospital noticed the suspiciously high number of patients dying from internal bleeding. Another four months passed before Petr Zelenka was actually arrested.

On Monday, Mr Zelenka stood before the court for the first time, pleading guilty to five out of seven murders he is accused of. He claimed, however, that he had signed his testimony under pressure after being severely beaten by police officers.

Although a court psychiatrist concluded that Petr Zelenka was perfectly sane and fully responsible for his actions when he committed the murders Zelenka himself claimed to have been mentally ill at the time. He said “he didn’t intend to kill but only wanted to see some action.” The impulse to kill, he said, came out of the blue. His lawyer Jan Herout is now asking the court for a reassessment of his client’s mental health:

“We want a team of experts to examine his mental state. It is such a complicated case that one expert opinion made by one psychiatrist is simply not sufficient.”

But according to Jaroslav Ortman, who represents the victims’ families, this is just an attempt on Mr Zelenka’s part to avoid being sent to prison.

“I think Mr Zelenka’s testimony is very muddled – on the one hand an admission of guilt, on the other an attempt to exonerate himself by talking about inner voices that led him on.”

Unless Petr Zelenka is found to be mentally ill, with seven murders and at least ten murder attempts to his name he could face anything between 15 years in prison and a life sentence. The court is expected to reach a verdict at the end of February at the earliest.

In the meantime, the hospital in Havlíčkův Brod has adopted various preventive measures, such as installing cameras on the premises and closely monitoring the process of drug administration.