Nurse Alleges Heiress Was Given Fatal Morphine Dose : Courts: Judge orders inquiry into Doris Duke’s 1993 death in Beverly Hills. Ex-butler, physician deny charges.
A nurse who cared for the late tobacco heiress and philanthropist Doris Duke charged in court papers made public Friday that she “did not die of natural causes” in her Beverly Hills mansion in 1993, but instead succumbed to a “massive sedation regime” instigated by her butler.
“Miss Duke did not ask that a lethal dose of morphine be given to her and she was not aware this was being done,” Tammy Payette, the nurse, charged in an affidavit submitted to the court handling the probate of Duke’s $1.2-billion estate. Payette was a principal nurse aiding the 80-year-old heiress in the weeks before she died on Oct. 28, 1993.
On Friday, the judge handling the probate here appointed Richard Kuh, a former Manhattan district attorney, as limited temporary administrator of the estate with power to look into the allegations. She ordered him to report back within 45 days. California law enforcement authorities said Friday that they had not yet been apprised of the contents of Payette’s affidavit.
Payette said that despite being on the mend after suffering a stroke, Duke was given increasingly large doses of sedatives by a physician at the request of Bernard Lafferty, Duke’s butler and adviser. The cause of death was listed in 1993 as progressive pulmonary edema.
Under the terms of Duke’s final will, Lafferty is to inherit a lump sum of $5 million, will receive a lifetime annuity of $500,000 a year, and was named co-executor of the Duke estate along with the United States Trust Co. of New York.
In a statement issued by Chen Sam, his public relations counsel, Lafferty labeled the charges “crank allegations” and “McCarthy-esque smear tactics.”
“These scandalous allegations are an offense to a friend to whom I was devoted in life and whose wishes I am working hard to carry out after her death. The facts of her death speak for themselves, and her doctor has testified at length about that.” the statement said.
The lawyer representing Dr. Charles F. Kivowitz, the primary attending physician who cared for the heiress during the last days of her life, said Kivowitz “totally denies these outrageous accusations and plans to pursue whatever legal remedies are available to him against those who submitted the affidavit and wrote it.
“His reputation and character are impeccable,” said Los Angeles attorney Leonard Levine.
A number of claims have been filed against the estate under the probate proceeding in Judge Eve Preminger’s court in Manhattan. Among them are filings by three former Duke servants and by Dr. Harry B. Demopoulos, a former Duke physician.
A lawyer for the three servants said he discovered Payette in the course of his investigation.
Demopoulos was a longtime Duke friend and was named in a 1991 will as an executor and trustee of her estate. He is challenging the appointment of both Lafferty and the bank as co-executors under the later will.
Demopoulos, an associate professor of pathology at the New York University School of Medicine, charged in recently filed court papers that nurses’ notes specifically quote the heiress’s fear of being “murdered.”
“On Sept. 20, 1993, just hours after she returned home from a hospitalization, Miss Duke informed her nurses that someone was trying to kill her,” the papers allege. “The nurse’s notes state: ‘Patient distress--states she’s afraid of being murdered.”
Demopoulos said that nurses’ notes on Oct. 7 show that Duke wanted to be moved to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center or to Duke University Medical Center, which her father had founded.
Demopoulos leveled a barrage of charges against Lafferty in the filings, including allegations that he is a chronic alcoholic who has been hospitalized several times for treatment under false names, is a drug abuser, and “is a violent abusive individual who threatens physical violence to cover up his own misconduct.”
Demopoulos alleged that while the butler’s employer lay dying, Lafferty was on Rodeo Drive “engaging in grossly extravagant shopping sprees” and that “since Miss Duke’s death, Lafferty has acted as if he were Miss Duke.”
He also charged that the tobacco heiress was “subjected to heavy sedation” which was manipulated to serve the butler’s ends, including procuring the later will.
In a statement, Lafferty labeled Demopoulos’ accusations “obstructionist.” He said under the prior will, Demopoulos would have stood to collect approximately $25 million in fees for acting as executor, five times the amount authorized for Lafferty in the final will. Duke’s former butler said he and the bank are “confident” the court will agree that Demopoulos lacks standing to bring his suit.
In her Jan. 13 affidavit, Payette said she was one of six nurses hired to care for Duke after the heiress suffered a stroke. She said she was hired just before Duke returned home from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in September, 1993, and at the time it was her opinion that Duke’s life expectancy was “at least five years.”
The nurse charged that within a short time after arriving home, Duke’s physical therapy was cut off and “she was placed on a massive sedation regime by Dr. Kivowitz at the request of Bernard Lafferty, Miss Duke’s butler.” Payette charged that the butler ordered her and the other nurses not to tell the heiress what drugs she was being given and that Kivowitz instructed “not to worry about over-medication or too much sedation.”
Payette charged the doctor instructed her to give Duke whatever medication Lafferty wanted. The nurse said that on Oct. 27, 1993, Kivowitz met at the house with Lafferty, the butler’s lawyer and a plastic surgeon. Payette said that after the meeting Kivowitz told her and another nurse “that it was time for Miss Duke to go.”
At the time, Duke’s vital signs were still stable and she was not in distress or pain, the nurse said in the court papers. Payette said that under orders from Kivowitz she prepared an intravenous solution of morphine to be administered to Duke.
“Later that evening, Bernard became very excited and impatient because Miss Duke was lingering and called Dr. Kivowitz explaining that Miss Duke had not expired,” the nurse alleged. She said that the physician returned to the house and injected a needle into the intravenous tube and began to “push” the morphine.
“Eventually, as a result of the morphine IV Miss Duke’s kidneys began to fail, her lungs filled up with fluid and her circulation began to deteriorate,” the nurse said. Payette said that Duke died several hours later.
In appointing Kuh as limited temporary administrator, Judge Preminger gave him the mandate to “examine the allegations of misconduct and the affairs of the estate.”
In her will, the heiress also made bequests to friends, confidants and employees. She left her closest surviving relative, Walker P. Inman Jr., a nephew, a $350,000 annuity. She remembered one friend with a $3-million bequest and left $1 million each to four other friends. She had harsh words, but no money to a daughter who she adopted in 1988.
Duke also ordered her executor to collect the $5 million she loaned to Imelda Marcos, wife of the former Philippine president, who needed the money to post bail after being indicted in New York on federal racketeering charges. The will added, however, that Mrs. Marcos did not have to repay the $5 million until she and the Philippine government settled their financial claims.
Duke’s father was president of the American Tobacco Co., and he had other extensive business interests. She was his only child, and in 1925, at the age of 12, inherited most of her father’s $300-million estate.
Duke was twice married and divorced, owned five homes, and was a philanthropist with interests ranging from AIDS research to historical preservation.
More on Doris Duke
* Reprints of Doris Duke’s obituary, “ ‘Richest Girl in the World’ Is Remembered as Philanthropist,” and a 1988 profile, “The ‘Duchess’ Who Posted Bail,” are available as a package from Times on Demand. Call 808-8463, press *8630 and select option 1. Order No. 5613. $3.
Details on Times electronic services, A5