Susan Marguerite Nelles (born in Belleville, Ontario) was charged with murdering four babies in 1981, when she worked as a nurse at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children. She was ultimately exonerated.
The hospital investigated the cause of infant deaths in the cardiac unit, using an experimental, inappropriate testing method. The test indicated that as many as 43 babies were poisoned with the heart medication digoxin. Police determined that Susan Nelles had been scheduled to work at the times that 23 of the deaths occurred. They arrested and charged her with the deaths of four babies. The deaths then stopped.
However, Nelles had not been on duty for several of the infant deaths, because she swapped shifts with other nurses – who had access to the same medication. Although the deaths ended after Nelles's arrest, the hospital had introduced restrictions for access to digoxin and had implemented a policy that kept infants in intensive care longer. Total deaths between the two units remained identical.
Nelles asked for legal counsel when she was arrested. This was interpreted by the investigating police officers to be an indication of her guilt, but the court later ruled that this should not be interpreted as evidence of guilt. The court also ruled that the Crown lacked evidence to convict Nelles. The government eventually paid for Nelles's legal costs after she sued the province's Attorney-General, Roy McMurtry for malicious prosecution.
A Royal Commission, led by Justice Samuel Grange, found that eight infants had been murdered. Although another nurse, Phyllis Trainor, fell under scrutiny, no one was charged. Moreover, the experimental test that detected digoxin may have given false results for other chemicals.
In 1999, she received an honorary degree from Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario at which she graduated with a Bachelor of Nursing Science degree in 1978. This honour, presented under her married name Susan Pine, was for her work in promoting integrity in the nursing field.
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