Thursday, September 15, 2016

Mary Rose Robaczynski, Serial Killer Nurse – Maryland, 1978


FULL TEXT (Article 1 of 2): Baltimore – Mary Rose Robaczynski not only admitted unplugging one patient’s respirator, but said she and other Maryland General Hospital nurses did the same to other patients, witnesses testified at her murder trial Tuesday.

“I really screwed up this time, didn’t it? If only I hadn’t done the first one,” nursing supervisor Peggy Ann Ryan quoted Mrs. Robaczynski as saying.

Mrs. Ryan said Mrs. Robaczynski told her, “I wasn’t the only one,” but refused to name the others because, “I’m not going to rat on the others like they did on me.”

However, she said Mrs. Robaczynski added, “Oh well, she was Filipino but it doesn’t matter because she doesn’t work here anymore.”

Mrs. Robaczynski, 24, is charged with murder by unplugging the life support system that kept comatose patient Harry Gessner alive. She also faces three other first degree murder charges in patient deaths.

Another nurse, Thomasina Springham, the hospital’s psychiatric clinical specialist, yold a Baltimore Criminal Court jury that Mrs. Robaczynski became angry during a counselling session March 17, 1978, the day she resigned.

“I only did it to the Gorks,” Mrs. Springham quoted Mrs. Robaczynski as saying, explaining that “Gork” was a hospital term for comatose patients whose chances of survival were slim.

She said Mrs. Robaczynski was “angry with the system, after all she just lost her job,” and that when the possibility of legal charges came up, said, “If it comes to that, I’ll deny it.”

Mrs. Ryan testified during cross-examination that Mrs. Robaczynski always received good hospital evaluations for her work and her knowledge of her job.

[Jim Rowley, “Witnesses Say Nurse Told of Patient Deaths,” UPI, Schenectady Gazette (N. Y.), Mar. 6, 1979, p. 4]

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FULL TEXT (Article 2 of 2): Baltimore – The state dropped murder charges Thursday against a nurse accused of engaging in mercy killing by unplugging the respirators of four comatose patients. In return, she agreed to give up her nursing license and never practice again.

Mary Rose Robaczynski, 24, had been tried on a murder charge in the death of Harry Gessner, 48, one of the four patients, but the case ended in a mistrial last week.

On Thursday, State’s Attorney William A. Swisher said prosecutors had decided not to retry the case, and to drop all charges, if Mrs. Robaczynski would agree not to practice nursing in Maryland or any other state.

Swisher said the decision was based partly on the vagueness or Maryland law defining death. He said his office would now try to get the Legislature to change the definition.

“After talking woth 11 of the jurors, we have determined that they were unable to agree on whether the victim was legally dead or alive at the time the respirator was disconnected within the terms of our statute,” he said. “ . . . The law should be clarified. We need an accepted universal definition of death.”

Mrs. Robaczynski was not available for comment, but a defense attorney, George J. Helinski, said. “It was our position all along that the law was not written for criminal prosecution in terms of the time of death.”

Swisher said he had not talked to the families of the four patients and did not know if the planned civil action. Asked if his office would turn over records if a civil suit is filed, he said “If it is legal, we will try to cooperate.”

Mrs. Robaczynski, of Pasadena, Md., admitted during the trial that she unplugged Gessner’s respirator in the special unit of Maryland General Hospital about 5 a. m. March 8, 1978. Several nurses had testified as prosecution witnesses that Mrs. Robaczynski had expressed a relief in euthanasia, but she said she thought Gessner already was dead because she got neither pulse nor blood pressure readings.

Some aspects of the case recalled the mysterious deaths of several patients at a Veterans Administration hospital in Ann Arbor, Mich., in 1975, at a time when 50 patients had suffered mysterious breathing failures.

In that case, the government accused two nurses of inducing the outbreak with the drug Pavulon, and in 1977, and in 1977 a U. S. District Court jury convicted them of conspiracy and of poisoning patients. Later, however, the judge criticized the prosecutors’ conduct and granted a new trial. He dismissed the indictments when the prosecutor said the government would not retry the case because the evidence was weak.

No mercy-killing allegations were made in that case, however. The prosecutors did not claim a specific motive, but did seek testimony that the nurses were disgruntled and felt overworked.

In Mrs. Robaczynski’s case, Judge Robert Karwacki declared a mistrial when the jurors told him on March 20 that they could not reach a verdict after almost 20 hours of deliberation. The jury was voting 102 in favor of acquittal, several jurors have said.

Mrs. Robaczynski was to have been tried separately on murder accusations in the deaths of the three other patients. Mrs. Robaczynski said she disconnected the respirators of Gessner and two other of her alleged victims because she thought them dead. She denied doing so on the fourth patient.

Since shortly after her forced resignation from Maryland General in March 1978, Mrs. Robaczynski has worked for a janitorial service, cleaning homes and offices. She testified that she twice got nursing jobs with other Baltimore area hospitals but was asked to leave after they were contacted by Maryland General, which was then investigating the mercy-killing allegations.

[“Murder Charge Dropped in Mercy Killing,” AP, The Victoria Advocate (Tx.), Mar. 30, 1979, p. 9C]

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Chronology:

Dec. 1977 – first of four euthanasia killings.
Mar. 8, 1978 – Harry Gessner, death; suspended (?) From job.
Mar. 17, 1978 – “Mrs. Robaczynski became angry during a counselling session March 17, 1978, the day she resigned.”
Aug. 18, 1978 – indicted
Mar. 8, 1979 – trial begins.
Mar. 20, 1979 – mistrial declared.
Mar. 29, 1979 – “On March 20, the jury deadlocked at 10-to-2 in favor of acquittal, resulting in declaration of a mistrial. Nine days later, charges were dismissed in return for Robaczynski’s promise to surrender her nursing license and refrain from practicing anywhere inside the United States.”

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Some coma cases:

1) 30 years – 1963-1993 – Annie Shapiro – Canada / Florida, USA

EXCERPT: But amazingly, on Oct 14, 1992, she suddenly snapped out of her coma. Mr Shapiro, who had retired and moved his ill wife to a retirement community in Florida, was flabbergasted. . . .  The most touching part of the miracle was the renewed romance between Shapiro and her husband, who had cared for her all those years, refusing to have her placed in a nursing home. “When I made my marriage vows and promised to stay together in sickness and in health, I meant it,” said Mr Shapiro on a national TV show, “not like the people of today.” Our romance began all over again. [Ron Laytner, “She Went To Sleep And Woke Up 30 Years Later,” The Straits Times, Sunday Plus, Apr. 5, 1998]

2) 20 years – 1985-2005 – Sarah Scantlin – Exeter, England

A simple, “Hi, Mom” and “Hi, Dad, Happy Valentine’s Day” may not seem like much. But after years of communicating only through blinking her eyes, Sarah Scantlin, 38, had just spoken her first words to her parents in 20 years. Sarah’s first words since being hit by a car in 1984 – – “OK, OK” – – came during a speech therapy session a few weeks before. Not wanting to give the family false hope, therapists at Golden Plains Health Care Center in Hutchinson, Kansas, worked diligently with Sarah to help her speak even more, according to the Kansas City Star. [Liz Townsend, “Brain-Injured Woman Regains Power of Speech after 20 Years,” National Right to Life News Today, February 27, 2013]

[Tatiana Morales, “Awake After 20 Years, Sarah Speaks,” CBS, Aug. 4, 2005]

3) 19 years – 1984-2003 – Terry Wallis – Stone County, Arkansas, USA

The words began tumbling out — at first just a few nouns and eventually a torrent of phrases. Terry Wallis, who had been in a coma since a 1984 car accident, regained consciousness last month to the surprise of doctors and the delight of his family, including his mother, who heard his first word in 19 years. “He started out with ‘Mom’ and surprised her and then it was ‘Pepsi’ and then it was ‘milk.’ And now it’s anything he wants to say,” Stone County Nursing and Rehabilitation Center social director Alesha Badgley said Tuesday. [Francie Grace, “Man Awakes After 19 Years In Coma,” AP, CBS News, July 9, 2003]

4) 19 years – 1988-2006 – Jan Grzebski – Poland

EXCERPT: The second 19-year coma survivor was a Polish man named Jan Grzebski. A railroad worker, Grzebski, 46, suffered his coma in 1988 in what was initially believed to be a workplace accident but was later attributed to a 5-centimeter brain tumor. Grzebski was able to survive the tumor, and eventually emerged from his coma in 2006. In an interview after he woke up, Grzebski admitted to being overwhelmed by the abundance of foods in his local shops, cell phones, and the fall of communism. Unfortunately, Grzebski passed away two years after waking up from his coma. The cause of death was a heart attack, believed to be related to the coma. [Jeffrey Kopman, “Waking Up: Famous Coma Survivors,” Healthy Living, Sep. 9, 2012]

5) 9 years – 2005-2016 – Ayanda Nqinana, Johannseburg, South Africa

EXCERPT: A South African man who had been in a coma for seven years was ‘woken up’ after being given a sleeping pill.Ayanda Nqinana, from Johannseburg, was left with severe brain injuries after his car crashed along an Eastern Cape road in 2005.His doctors said the father-of-one would most likely never recover.But his wife Nomfundo recently read a newspaper article about other long-term coma patients who had woken up after being fed sleeping pill Stilnox. [Graham Smith, “Medical miracle? Father ‘wakes up’ from seven-year coma after he is given a sleeping pill,” MailOnline, Sep. 11, 2012]

6) 5 years – 2010-2015 – Matt Davis – Georgia, USA

EXCERPT: Surgeons told Danielle Davis her newlywed husband Matt would never wake up - but she kept on fighting - and so did he. When doctors wanted to switch off Matt Davis’ life support machine the only thing stopping them was his loyal wife. The 22-year-old married Danielle seven months before he was involved in a serious motorcycle crash that put him in a coma. His devastated new bride, 23, from Georgia, US, sat by her husband’s bedside each day and would talk to Matt while holding his hand. [David Raven, “Miracle man wakes from coma after wife battled doctors to keep life support switched on,” Daily Mirror (London, England), Apr. 7,  2015]

7) 2011 – Taylor Hale – Waukee, Iowa, USA
EXCERPT: The family of Taylor Hale gathered in her hospital room nearly four years ago. They assembled to say goodbye. The date was Sept. 17, 2011 — six days after what normally would have been a silly teenage moment spawned a terrible sequence of events that resulted in two parents preparing to say goodbye to their 14-year-old daughter. . . . Later that afternoon, doctors turned off the life support that had been helping her breath since the accident. And then, something unexpected happened: Taylor struggled to take a breath under her own power. They reconnected life support. As the day went on, Taylor’s brain activity began to increase. Her eyes fluttered. She made mumbling noises, trying to talk. And finally, Taylor Hale, considered brain dead by science, awoke from her coma. [Daniel Finney, Des Moines Register “‘Hand of God’ wakes brain-injured girl from coma,” USA Today, May 13, 2015] http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/05/13/hand-of-god-heals-iowa-girl/27274399/

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