Petr Zelenka


Petr Zelenka

A.K.A.: "The Heparin Killer"

Classification: Serial killer
Characteristics: Nurse - Poisoner
Number of victims: 7
Date of murders: May-September 2006
Date of arrest: December 1, 2006
Date of birth: 1976
Victims profile: Men and women (patients)
Method of murder: Poisoning (heparin)
Location: Havlickud Brod, Czech Republic
Status: Sentenced to life in prison on February 22, 2008

“Heparin killer” gets life in prison


A court in Hradec Králové sentenced a male nurse to life in prison on Thursday for murdering seven patients and trying to kill ten more. Petr Zelenka, 31, will spend the rest of his life behind bars, after being found guilty of giving lethal injections to patients at a hospital in Havličkův Brod. The conviction makes him the worst serial killer in the country’s post-communist history.

Petr Zelenka bowed his head and showed no emotion as Judge Jiří Vacek delivered his sentence – life in prison, for seven murders and 10 attempted murders. Judge Vacek indicated he would have given Zelenka the death penalty had it not been abolished in 1990, so a life sentence in a maximum security prison was the only sentence left open to him. Afterwards Zelenka stood in conversation with his lawyer, wiping tears from his eyes.

Zelenka was found guilty of administering a blood-thinning drug called Heparin to seventeen mostly elderly patients, earning him the nickname “The Heparin Killer.” He gave the lethal injections – he had no authority to administer medicine at all without a doctor’s supervision - between May and September 2006, causing massive bleeding. However he made a last minute appeal for clemency in court on Thursday.

“I never wanted to hurt any of your family members. I never wanted to kill your loved ones.”

That call fell on deaf ears, and unless he succeeds in appealing against the verdict Petr Zelenka will become the 34th prisoner serving a life sentence in the Czech Republic. He only admitted to administering Heparin to five patients, and claims the other confessions were beaten out of him by the police. But he was also quoted in the media as saying he did it “to see some action”, then changing his story, saying he had no idea why he’d administered the drug. His lawyers had pleaded a lesser sentence on grounds of diminished responsibility, claiming he was mentally ill, but that was rejected by the court.

The sentence has provided some sense of satisfaction for his victims, but many questions remain. Zelenka was dismissed at the end of September 2006 following a series of suspicious deaths that began in May, but he wasn’t arrested until December. Many are asking how it was possible that so many cases of internal bleeding went unnoticed for so long.

Hospital killer goes to court


An unprecedented case in Czech criminal history, which shocked the public last year, has finally come to court. Petr Zelenka, a 31-year old male nurse who worked in a hospital in eastern Bohemia’s Havlíčkův Brod, stands accused of murdering seven patients and attempting to kill at least ten others by injecting them with heparin, a blood-thinning drug which can be fatal if administered in excess.

The hospital murders took place between May and September 2006, at a time when Petr Zelenka was promoted to head nurse and put in charge of the entire intensive care unit. Given the relatively high number of deaths in intensive care, it took seven months before anyone in the hospital noticed the suspiciously high number of patients dying from internal bleeding. Another four months passed before Petr Zelenka was actually arrested.

On Monday, Mr Zelenka stood before the court for the first time, pleading guilty to five out of seven murders he is accused of. He claimed, however, that he had signed his testimony under pressure after being severely beaten by police officers.

Although a court psychiatrist concluded that Petr Zelenka was perfectly sane and fully responsible for his actions when he committed the murders Zelenka himself claimed to have been mentally ill at the time. He said “he didn’t intend to kill but only wanted to see some action.” The impulse to kill, he said, came out of the blue. His lawyer Jan Herout is now asking the court for a reassessment of his client’s mental health:

“We want a team of experts to examine his mental state. It is such a complicated case that one expert opinion made by one psychiatrist is simply not sufficient.”

But according to Jaroslav Ortman, who represents the victims’ families, this is just an attempt on Mr Zelenka’s part to avoid being sent to prison.

“I think Mr Zelenka’s testimony is very muddled – on the one hand an admission of guilt, on the other an attempt to exonerate himself by talking about inner voices that led him on.”

Unless Petr Zelenka is found to be mentally ill, with seven murders and at least ten murder attempts to his name he could face anything between 15 years in prison and a life sentence. The court is expected to reach a verdict at the end of February at the earliest.

In the meantime, the hospital in Havlíčkův Brod has adopted various preventive measures, such as installing cameras on the premises and closely monitoring the process of drug administration.

Heparin killer blames madness, retracts confession


Hradec Králové - An unprecedented case in the history of the Czech health care system, which shocked Czech public last year, finally reached court today.

In the dock is a nurse who killed seven patients and attempted to murder ten more by injecting them with anticoagulant substance known as heparin, excessive doses of which can cause internal bleeding and become lethal.

The nurse Petr Zelenka used to work at an intense care unit of a hospital in east-Bohemian town of Havlíčkův Brod and it took seven long months before anyone noticed the suspiciously high number of patients dying from internal bleeding in the hospital.

Looking for some action

Thirteen people died in the hospital of heparin overdose. Zelenka, who stands accused of seven murders and ten attempted murders, addressed the court for the first time today.

"The first impulse to kill came out of nowhere. As if a voice inside kept telling me: Give it to them. Give it to them! I had a feeling someone is trying to get me into doing it," Zelenka stated at the trial.

He also tried to explain why he was administering heparin. "I don't know exactly why heparin. Probably because we used it at the department. I injected the drug directly into a vein."

"The common dose is about 10 to 20 thousand units. I used about 25 thousand, if not more. I knew the patients would suffer from internal bleeding but I thought we would try to save their lives. I did not intend to kill them. I just wanted some action. I enjoyed the work," he added.

Forced to admit guilt

Zelenka also revoked his admission of guilt which he had earlier made to the police. He stated the police put pressure on him to admit his guilt.

He claims he was severely beaten by the police officers and was forced to sign the testimony. "I signed whatever they wanted me to sign. I was afraid they would beat me again," said Zelenka at the court.

There was another major change in Zelenka´s testimony in front of the judge today. He had told the police before he was healthy but today he claimed to have been mentally ill. He was allegedly taking 10 self-prescribed pills a day.

The defendant's lawyer Jan Herout repeated he would ask for reassessment of Zelenka´s state of mental health. If the verdict is ´guilty´, the minimum sentence would be 15 years in jail, but he could also get a life sentence.

Four judges will hear over 60 witnesses, other nurses and doctors from the hospital among them. The trial is expected to continue until the end of February.

Public outcry over hospital killings

Nurse bled eight patients to death with a common drug

December 13th, 2006

Petr Zelenka, a nurse at an east Bohemian hospital, wanted to conduct a test: How long would it take doctors to realize he was killing patients?

Zelenka, 30, gave this as the reason behind a spree that killed eight patients at Havlíčkův Brod Hospital this year when he was arrested and confessed to the crimes Dec. 1.

He is now behind bars, charged with eight murders and nine more attempts, and could face a life sentence, although lawyers say he is unlikely to get more than 15 years.

But the fallout from the case continues, largely because the answer to Zelenka's question has become apparent: far too long.

Doctors at Havlíčkův Brod first suspected that Zelenka could be connected with a series of unusual deaths in May, but didn't file a criminal complaint and fire him until September. Between his sacking from Havlíčkův Brod and his arrest, Zelenka even managed to get another nursing job, at Jičín Hospital in east Bohemia; administrators there weren't warned about him and didn't suspect a thing.

As an investigation continues, health experts and patients' rights groups are questioning the system that allowed the nurse to carry out his crimes, saying not only did Havlíčkův Brod managers err by not acting sooner, but that the case points to a weak system of safety controls.

"A flawed system is at the root of least 95 percent of all medical mistakes," says David Marx, head of the Czech Association for Quality in Health Care. "In a well-functioning hospital anything unusual should immediately set off alarms. This didn't happen here."

Health Minister Tomáš Julínek set up a special committee Dec. 6 to look into the case. Doctors at Havlíčkův Brod are under investigation, and the hospital's director, Josef Pejchl, was sacked for taking too long to fire Zelenka.

A 'determined murderer'

Patients' rights groups are divided on the issue. Pavel Vepřek, head of the Czech Health Forum, which promotes healthcare reforms, said neither the Havlíčkův Brod doctors nor the system were at fault.

"These were the criminal acts of one individual. You can't blame it on the system," he said. "I don't think there exist any safety measures anywhere in the world that can protect patients against a determined murderer."

Czech Patients Association President Luboš Olejár, on the other hand, said that Zelenka's case is an example of shortcomings in safety checks and security measures at Czech hospitals.

"It's absolutely outrageous," he said. "Something as simple as careful documentation of the amount of drugs each patient is given could have prevented this tragedy. There are clearly holes in the system, but the doctors involved are also responsible."

In May, Pavel Longin, the Havlíčkův Brod hospital's head doctor, noticed that an abnormally. high number of patients in the intensive care ward were bleeding to death. He discovered that unusually high doses of Heparin, a common blood thinner, the use of which typically goes undocumented in hospitals, were causing the bleeding.

Zelenka's name surfaced as the last nurse to care for the deceased.

Longin told the daily Mladá fronta Dnes that he feels that his conscience is clear and he could not have acted sooner because he lacked direct evidence implicating Zelenka.

Ondřej Dostál, a lawyer who specializes in bioethics, says the doctors may face charges if it is proven that they could have prevented deaths.

"According to law, anyone who suspects that a crime is about to take place is obliged to try and prevent it," Dostál said.

The Havlíčkův Brod district police department is also under investigation. The police received the criminal complaint against Zelenka Oct. 23, more than a month before they arrested him.

Stricter controls

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry is promising a stricter system of controls at hospitals, starting with the demand that they obtain either national or international accreditation, which is currently not mandatory.

Paradoxically, the Czech Health Care Institute rated Havlíčkův Brod the top hospital in the Vysočina region and the eighth-best hospital in the country this November for its outstanding level of care.

Longin says, however, that the hospital doesn't have any formal system of controls in place that could have prevented the crimes from happening.

Some doctors like Marx say accreditation would help.

Only two Czech hospitals, Na Homolce Hospital and the Central Military Hospital — both in Prague — have international accreditation. Eight more are accredited nationally.

Marx says that by the end of next year 30 new hospitals should fulfill the requirements for national accreditation, ranging from building safety to data storage and employee screening.

Havlíčkův Brod isn't one of them.

Marx adds that more thorough documentation of medication distribution is needed.

Requiring two nurses to be present when a patient receives any medication might also be a good idea, according to Marx.

"The only good thing to come out of this," he said, "is that we're now at least talking about the need to make hospitals safer."

Petr Zelenka

Petr Zelenka

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Petr Zelenka (back towards the camera) talks to his lawyer Jan Herout Autor: Tomáš Adamec, Aktuálně.cz

Petr Zelenka

Petr Zelenka

"I did not intend to kill. I was just looking for some action." (Petr Zelenka)Autor: Tomáš Adamec, Aktuálně.cz

Petr Zelenka

Petr Zelenka at trial

Petr Zelenka at trial

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Petr Zelenka

Petr Zelenka

Petr Zelenka

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Petr Zelenka

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Zelenka´s father Bohumil requests more than one psychiatrist examines his son Autor: Tomáš Adamec, Aktuálně.cz