Friday, September 22, 2000

Ex-doctor to plead guilty in death, official says

Admitted killer charged with murder in Ohio case

By The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — A former physician who admitted killing three patients in New York and is suspected of poisoning dozens more was charged Thursday with killing a woman 16 years ago when she was recovering from a car accident.

        Michael J. Swango is charged with aggravated murder and has agreed to plead guilty, Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien said. Mr. Swango is accused of injecting Cynthia Ann McGee, 19, with potassium on Jan. 14, 1984, when he was an intern at Ohio State University Hospitals.

Michael J. Swango
Michael J. Swango
        Mr. Swango two weeks ago pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in New York to killing three patients at a veterans' hospital there in 1993.

        He also had been investigated in Zimbabwe and was convicted of the nonfatal poisonings of co-workers in Illinois. He had managed to move on to other medical jobs by lying about his background after Ohio State barred him from returning.

        “We'll take what we can get,” Ed Morgan, assistant prosecutor, said of the county grand jury indictment. “I wish we could have gotten more, but as an attorney I'm bound by the rules of evidence.”

        Mr. Morgan has investigated Mr. Swango for 15 years in the suspicious deaths of at least six patients at Ohio State Hospitals between 1983 and 1984.

        “I've always felt that he's been involved in a lot more deaths at Ohio State, but I didn't have — and still don't have — the evidence to prove it,” he said.

        As part of his plea on Sept. 6, Mr. Swango admitted that his criminal behavior “included the administration of a toxic substance to Miss Cynthia McGee at Ohio State Hospital, Columbus, on or about 14 January 1984,” according to the transcript.

        Prosecutors say they needed that admission to charge Mr. Swango in Ohio because they had only circumstantial evidence — a nurse's account that she had seen him entering Ms. McGee's hospital room with a syringe just before the patient lapsed into a coma and died.

        Ms. McGee, of the suburb of Dublin, was recuperating from an accident two months earlier in Champaign-Urbana, Ill., where she was attending the University of Illinois and was on the gymnastics team.

        Her parents, William and Janis McGee of Beverly Hills, Fla., could not be reached for comment.

        Dave Ferguson, spokesman for the Ohio State University Medical Centers, said the university thinks it has done — and continues to do — everything possible to protect patients' well-being.

        After Ms. McGee died, Ohio State changed certain policies to ensure patients' safety and “we believe we have as good of a system now as is humanly possible,” Ms. Ferguson said.

        The maximum penalty on the aggravated murder charge is life in prison with the chance of parole after 20 years, which was the most severe penalty in 1984, when Ms. McGee died.

        But Mr. Swango already has been sentenced to life without parole for the three New York murders in a plea bargain that spared him the possibility of the death penalty. He will be sent to a maximum security prison in Colorado, Mr. Morgan said.

        It isn't known when Mr. Swango, in federal custody in Brooklyn, N.Y., will be sent to Columbus to enter his plea, Mr. Morgan said.

        Mr. Swango, 45, also is suspected of poisoning patients in Zimbabwe and served time in prison for the nonfatal poisoning of co-workers in Illinois.

        A book about him, Blind Eye: The Story of a Doctor who Got Away with Murder, suggests that Mr. Swango might have killed as many as 35 patients as he moved from hospital to hospital, lying about his background. Zimbabwe has agreed not to pursue charges.

        Mr. Swango also admitted poisoning OSU patient Rena Cooper, who survived but was paralyzed. Prosecutors can't pursue assault charges because too much time has passed under Ohio law.

- Ex-doctor to plead guilty in death, official says
Suspicions followed doctor across globe

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