Advertisement

Police Call Hospital Case Murder

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Glendale police said Wednesday for the first time that they believe at least one murder was committed in connection with the case of the hospital worker who allegedly confessed to killing 40 to 50 people.

“We believe that crimes did occur,” said Sgt. Rick Young, Glendale Police Department spokesman. When asked what crime, he answered: “Murder.”

The development came as respiratory therapist Efren Saldivar told two national television programs that he lied about killing near-death patients at Glendale Adventist Medical Center with fatal doses of drugs or by suffocation, according to news releases issued by the TV shows Wednesday.

“I lied. I fabricated the confession,” Saldivar told an interviewer for the syndicated program “Extra” in a segment to be aired tonight.

Advertisement

The therapist made a similar statement to the ABC-TV newsmagazine “20/20" in an interview that will air Friday. He said he was under the influence of Valium when he concocted the confession in a scheme to draw the death penalty because he didn’t have the courage to commit suicide.

“I wanted the system to do to me what I couldn’t do to me,” Saldivar told “20/20,” according to the news release. “I was looking to die, I wanted to die . . . but I didn’t have the courage.”

He also said that one co-worker who allegedly found powerful drugs in his locker had a grudge against him. Bob Baker, a fellow respiratory therapist, gave a statement to investigators that he saw morphine and succinylcholine chloride, a paralyzing agent, in Saldivar’s locker.

The statement, Saldivar said, was “a plan to get rid of me” by a “guy that hates me.”

Advertisement

But after an intense monthlong investigation, Glendale police said they don’t buy Saldivar’s claim of innocence.

During the “20/20" interview, Young told interviewers that there could be “hundreds” of cases.

“It may be just the tip of the iceberg,” he said, according to the “20/20" news release. ". . . At this point, we believe we have a strong case.”

The dramatic developments are the latest in an already bizarre situation. From the beginning of the investigation March 3, police had said Saldivar’s statement was the only evidence pointing to a crime. Poring over hundreds of cases of long-dead possible victims in a search for corroborating evidence, they said they weren’t even sure a crime had occurred.

Advertisement

Hospital officials, who fired Saldivar and four of his respiratory therapy colleagues, declined to comment on the new developments. Glendale Adventist continues to cooperate with police and “supports their decisions as to what information they decide to release regarding employees we have terminated,” according to a statement released Wednesday.

Young declined to provide more details on the results of the Police Department’s investigation. He also would not say whether police were close to exhuming any bodies, which investigators have said they will do at some point.

No arrest warrants have been issued, Young said, because investigators still lack necessary evidence. Saldivar, who was released after questioning March 13, has been in hiding since the investigation became public 2 1/2 weeks ago.

“We have to have proof beyond a reasonable doubt,” Young said. “We want to have all our ducks in a row.”

Advertisement

Hospital officials did not respond to questions about the police findings. They also declined comment on Saldivar’s interview on “Extra,” which will air locally tonight at 7 p.m. on KNBC-TV Channel 4.

“I want to set things straight. I still have a conscience,” the 28-year-old Tujunga resident told the interviewer in explaining his reasons for talking to the show, according to the news release.

Police officials and legal experts were split on what effect, if any, Saldivar’s recantation would have on any potential charges against him. Investigators said they put greater weight on his initial, tape-recorded statements, since they were made spontaneously.

But an expert in false confessions said that, barring solid outside evidence, there may never be a resolution of whether Saldivar told the truth when he spoke to the news media or when he talked to the police.

Advertisement

“Merely the fact of a recantation doesn’t suggest innocence or guilt,” said Richard Leo, a professor of criminology at UC Irvine who is writing a book on false confessions. “You have to evaluate what the police did and what is [the suspect’s] background, and how do we corroborate or confirm the evidence.”

Officials at Glendale Adventist first got a tip a year ago that someone may have been killing patients at the hospital. After a statistical analysis cleared Saldivar, the hospital took the precaution of assigning three staff members to watch his actions closely.

But it wasn’t until this February, when hospital officials received another tip on Saldivar, that they contacted Glendale police about the allegations. Police immediately worked to have Saldivar’s license suspended by the state’s Respiratory Care Board.

During that effort, they revealed Saldivar’s alleged confession that he killed 40 to 50 people. Saldivar purportedly said his victims had to meet three conditions: They had to be under “do not resuscitate” orders, be unconscious and “look like they were ready to die.”

Advertisement

The confession rocked both investigators and hospital officials. Legal experts have said Saldivar’s allegations would be difficult, if not impossible, to prove. The drugs he allegedly used to cause death--Pavulon and succinylcholine chloride--break down quickly after death. And the alleged victims were all elderly and close to death.

State licensing officials said Wednesday they did not believe that Saldivar’s recantation would affect proceedings to permanently revoke his license, which are scheduled next month.

Whether Saldivar’s initial statements are true is secondary to the fact that he would make such allegations at all, said Jay Van Rein, a spokesman for the state Department of Consumer Affairs, which oversees the Respiratory Care Board.

“The fact that someone with that much power, by virtue of his position, has those thoughts in his mind is evidence that they’re better off not having a license,” Van Rein said. Saldivar’s latest TV statements “are not going to change anything.”

Advertisement


Advertisement
Advertisement