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California "Angel of Death" Suspect to be Arraigned Tomorrow

Aired January 10, 2001 - 2:00 p.m. ET


LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: This hour, the Los Angeles district attorney's office will outline the case against an accused serial killer, a man who calls himself the "Angel of Death." Fired hospital worker Efren Saldivar is suspected in dozens of deaths, deaths police say he called mercy killings.

The Los Angeles district attorney, Steven Cooley, is now addressing reporters in Los Angeles. Let's hear what he has to say.


STEVEN COOLEY, L.A. DISTRICT ATTORNEY: ... 1998, and was conducted by the Glendale Police Department. Representing that department this morning is Chief Russell Siverling and several of his fine detectives who worked tirelessly on this case. From the DA's office, we have Deputy DA Brian Kelberg, who spent many, many hours working this case over a long period of time, contributed to it substantially, and worked on this case from its inception.

The trial lawyer who will handle this case through trial is Al McKenzie, who has been on the case for about the last 2 1/2 months. I will now ask Deputy DA Al McKenzie to answer any questions you may have about the case and the history of it, bearing in mind we will not speak about anything that it is not a matter of public record.

So with that, Deputy DA Al McKenzie.


I would like to express my appreciation to Steve Cooley for his leadership, and particularly to the Glendale Police Department for the incredible commitment and dedication they have shown to this case. This is a case that has taken intensive investigative hours. I'd like to also thank our experts who have worked closely with the Glendale Police Department, all of the civilian employees at the Glendale Adventist Hospital for their help in the case.

But the bottom line is, there was a tremendous commitment made by the Glendale Police Department to bring Mr. Saldivar to justice. We filed six counts of murder, murder by poisoning, using a substance called Pavulon. If you have any questions that I can answer, I'll be happy to try to.

QUESTION: What is Pavulon? MCKENZIE: It's substance used by anesthesiologists -- something like curare, which basically acts to stop your normal breathing.

QUESTION: How do you spell it?

MCKENZIE: P-a-v-u-l-o-n.


MCKENZIE: Yes, as a result of the exhumation, tissues samples and work by Dr. Brian Andresen at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

QUESTION: Is this element not also used as a therapeutic element?

MCKENZIE: Well, it is used basically if you are going to put somebody on artificial, mechanical means of breathing, you stop their normal breathing ability by administering Pavulon.

QUESTION: If this drug is administered, it would be, as I understand it, to a patient already on a respirator. And that person would continue breathing through a mechanical means. Would a would-be killer have to not only administer the drug, but also turn off the respirator?

MCKENZIE: No, because it -- what it does, it's not used when someone is on a respirator. It used -- for example, if you're going to do surgery, you need to put the individual on an artificial mechanical breathing device, you then, as the anesthesiologist, shut down their ability to breathe normally so you can stick in tubes and various other medical instruments to create an artificial breathing for purposes of surgery or other treatment.

QUESTION: This suspect, you believe, did nothing more than administer the drug?

MCKENZIE: Correct. Uh-huh. And, obviously, the bottom line is, if you give the person the drug and you don't create an artificial means for them to breathe, they are not going to breathe and they are going to die.

QUESTION: Mr. McKenzie, what was -- what was the mindset of the man who called himself the "Angel of Death"? Why did not he want these people to live?

MCKENZIE: Well, I don't think I can address that right now. I think you are going to have to attend the preliminary hearing and listen to the evidence at the preliminary hearing.

QUESTION: Did he not indicate in his first confession his motivation?

MCKENZIE: Well, unfortunately, it's not appropriate for me to comment on any statements he has made to the police at this time. But that will come out at the preliminary hearing. QUESTION: Could you have attributed more deaths to him, or did you limit it to just six for a specific reason?

MCKENZIE: I think you have to appreciate it's an incredibly labor-intensive police investigation. Out of 20 exhumed bodies, six were found to have Pavulon.

QUESTION: Can you expand, explain the significance of when you found Pavulon in the body? What did that tell you? And was that the single thing which allowed you to (OFF-MIKE)

MCKENZIE: Well, a lot of people -- a common lay person would wonder: Well, you have got a guy who came to a police station and who allegedly made statements indicating that he did this. Why have you had a delay in prosecuting him?

The answer is, there's a rule called the corpus delicti rule, which is a standard jury instruction that's given in basically any cases involving a statement made by an accused. And, basically, it says, before a jury can convict a person, even though they may have made statements indicating they committed a crime, we have to have independent evidence. You cannot convict based on a confession or a statement alone. So the process that has occurred is the Glendale Police Department has done an incredible job getting that corroborating evidence.

QUESTION: Can you characterize for us whether he has been cooperative or made another statement without -- if you can't say what he said, can at least say whether he has...

MCKENZIE: I apologize, but I can't at this point.


QUESTION: ... access to Pavulon.

MCKENZIE: I believe -- Pavulon is a substance that is commonly used by hospitals for medical purposes.


QUESTION: ... realm of his job, could he go take it off the shelf, do you know?

MCKENZIE: You got to -- we invite you to attend the preliminary hearing.


QUESTION: Just because you've got a drug in an exhumed body's system, how can you connect that to him? And talk into the mike, because I know if you talk this way, we are not going to hear you.

MCKENZIE: OK, well, I'm sorry. We'll invite all of you to attend the preliminary hearing when it's set. Those are questions that I can't ethically respond to at this point. Thank you. QUESTION: This man did confess, apparently, in 1998. And I'm wondering if his alleged confession, did that in fact provide an accurate road map? Is that a good way to put it?

MCKENZIE: Well, one more time, we invite you to attend the preliminary hearing. OK? Thank you. Thank you.

QUESTION: Al, is it possible that any of the other 20...

WATERS: All right, many questions still to be answered -- they're being asked, but they're not being answered -- in a case that's almost three years old now. It was in March of 1998 that the accused man, Efren Saldivar, went to police and claimed that he committed dozens of mercy killings at that medical center, which we now known is the Glendale Adventist Hospital, between '89 and '97.

He told police he considered himself the "Angel of Death" -- allegedly, he told police. Police said Saldivar told them he was angry at seeing terminally ill patients kept alive and killed them by injecting a muscle-paralyzing drugs into their intravenous lines. We're now hearing that the drug called Pavulon, which is a poison that stops breathing, was found in six bodies after 20 exhumations.

We have Roger Cossack, legal analyst, with us here.

Roger, there's a lot we don't know about this. But these statements to police -- or alleged statements by police -- reporters obviously wanting to know about those, and how they played a part in the investigation, and will they play a part in the prosecution.

ROGER COSSACK, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: That's right. And you heard -- earlier, you heard District Attorney McKenzie point out the problem that the district attorney had and apparently has solved. And that's called the corpus delicti rule. I know it sounds like something from an old "Perry Mason," but this is what it means.

It means that the prosecutor, to prove a case, needs more than just the simple confession of the accused. You need to have some independent evidence. That is, you can not convict someone merely because that person comes in and said, "I have committed this crime," without some kind of independent evidence to back up that statement. And that's apparently what they've done here. You've heard Mr. McKenzie say that they exhumed several bodies, 20 bodies. And of the 20, six of them had this anesthetic, if you will, called Pavulon, which, as we've heard, shuts down the ability -- the body's ability to breathe.

WATERS: I'm curious now about the statements, if even they were made, this man not been arrested before now. So he was not Mirandized that he -- that anything he says can be used against him. Can he, if the statements were made, have those statements used against him?

COSSACK: Well, that's a good question, Lou. Let me, first of all, say that we're not sure whether or not he was Mirandized or not. I don't think any of us really know under what circumstances yet those statements were given. So I think that's something that we'll have to find out.

WATERS: All right. The arraignment comes on Thursday. What happens there?

COSSACK: At the arraignment, he will be told his constitutional rights. He will have a lawyer appointed if he doesn't already have one. He will have the charges read for him. The issue of bail will be brought up. I don't think he will be getting bail, of course. And then they'll set a date for a preliminary hearing.

WATERS: That preliminary hearing, which we heard the Deputy DA Al McKenzie refer to, is when they lay out the case, when we will hear the answers to some of the questions that were asked?

COSSACK: A preliminary hearing in California is, is the prosecution has to prove two things: that a crime was committed, and two, there is reasonable belief to believe that the defendant committed those crimes. So that's all. It's not where the prosecution has to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, nor does it even have to lay out its entire case. It merely has to prove, one, that a crime was committed -- easy to do in this case -- and two, there is reasonable probability that the defendant committed those crimes.

WATERS: All right. And because of the horrendous nature of that, we will be following this story for some time -- Efren Saldivar arraigned Thursday.

Roger Cossack, in Washington, thanks so much.

COSSACK: Thank you.



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