I’m extremely grateful to the government of the Netherlands for the exoneration and apology that they have given to a dear friend of a dear friend concerning one of the strangest miscarriages of justice in the modern-day industrialized world.

In 2004 Lucia de Berk was convicted of murdering patients who died in her care, starting with an infant that was suspected of dying from an overdose of a medication that it had been prescribed, back in 2001. From there, prosecutors performed a truly brain-damaged statistical analysis of deaths that occurred within 24-hours of her having been on shift (several deaths potentially attributed to her had to be removed from the list after reviewing attendance records) and made some truly juvenile errors in their statistical approach. These errors got her a conviction for three deaths, only one of which could have been classified truly as a murder, if not proven to be an accidental overdose.

When her case came up for review/appeal in 2006, the errors were REPEATED AND MAGNIFIED, and even more deaths were tacked on to her conviction. Shortly after receiving this news that her conviction and life sentence were to be upheld, Lucia suffered a stroke.

Thankfully, in 2008, the convictions started to unravel. In one of the early infant deaths, it was showed that the “overdose” was in high risk of being a false positive for the test performed because of the breakdown products of decay of the corpse. A better test, which took these breakdown products into account, showed a negative. But the results had “gotten lost” and were not presented in her defense at her original trial.

Examination after examination failed to show any conclusive evidence of foul play in these other deaths for which she had been convicted. Expert after expert showed that, statistically speaking, deaths on shift had decreased after Lucia had been added to the staff. Expert after expert showed the correct way of doing the math involved, showing that any nurse on staff would have had a one-in-nine chance of being the one who had been the victim of a bizarre witch hunt like this in any similar hospital. No matter how low an opinion we might have of having to go to a hospital, we can’t believe that one nurse in nine is a serial killer. It was just dumb luck. Any nurse on staff could have been the victim of this kind of crappy math.

There were no murders. There is no murderer or murderess. Lucia lost six years of her life, away from her partner and growing daughter, and is still hoping for some kind of reasonable compensation for these missing years of her life and her suffering.

But today she is free.

It was quite a blow to Dutch pride to have to admit the huge chain of mistakes that snatched a mother away from her family, out of a rewarding career of helping the sick, and threw her in prison for life. They missed the boat a number of times to prevent this travesty, to reduce the impact, to turn things around when things started to smell. I respect them deeply for swallowing that pride and coming to Lucia today with an official exoneration and a sincere apology. And I am counting on them to help her reestablish herself as completely as possible, considering everything that has happened.


April 14, 2010 · by xalieri · Posted in Everything Else  


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