Indictment alleges nurse was 'Angel of Death'

  • Marty Himebaugh

    Marty Himebaugh

  • Penny Whitlock

    Penny Whitlock

Published: 4/4/2008 10:07 AM | Updated: 4/4/2008 9:10 PM

A worker at a McHenry County nursing home gave patients dangerous doses of morphine and other drugs in 2006 with the permission of a facility director who told her to serve as an "Angel of Death," according a McHenry County grand jury.

Both women now face multiple felony charges alleging they jeopardized patients' lives, but authorities stopped short Friday of accusing either of killing or intending to kill the home's residents.

The indictments come after a 15-month state police investigation into the home sparked by allegations that a former employee had performed as many as six mercy killings at the Woodstock Residence nursing home in 2006.

Marty M. Himebaugh of Lake in the Hills, a former nurse at the 115-bed home in Woodstock, faces four counts of criminal neglect of a long-term care facility resident and single counts of obtaining a controlled substance by fraud and unlawful distribution of a controlled substance.

The charges allege that between April and September 2006 Himebaugh gave four patients at the home morphine either without a prescription or in doses larger than what was prescribed.

In one instance, court documents state, Himebaugh gave morphine to a woman who was unresponsive and exhibiting delayed breathing patterns. In another, charges allege, an unprescribed dose made a man fall unconscious.

All four patients -- one woman and three men -- are now dead. Authorities declined to say whether they died as a result of drug overdoses.

"We are not alleging (Himebaugh) caused the death, but we are alleging that she did administer unlawful dosages of morphine," said Nichole Owens, criminal chief for the McHenry County state's attorney's office.

State police arrested Himebaugh, 57, at her home Friday morning. She later posted $5,000 bond to go free while the charges are pending.

Her attorney denied the allegations on her behalf Friday.

"The allegations are absolutely ridiculous," Sam Amirante said. "She conducted herself as a professional in her job, and I'm confident she will be exonerated."

Penny Whitlock, the home's director of nursing as of Friday, is charged with five counts of criminal neglect of a long-term care facility resident and two counts of obstructing justice. Whitlock, 58, of Woodstock, was arrested at the nursing home this morning and also posted a $5,000 bond.

The indictment against Whitlock states she said "that Marty Himebaugh could continue to play the Angel of Death in the facility" after she received reports of the nurse giving a resident dangerously high doses of morphine.

Whitlock also is accused of instructing another employee to destroy evidence in an effort to prevent the apprehension or prosecution of Himebaugh. She did not return a call for comment Friday.

McHenry County State's Attorney Louis Bianchi repeatedly declined comment when asked Friday whether Whitlock and Himebaugh were conducting mercy killings at the nursing home. The indictment is silent on the defendants' motive and intent.

"I can only tell you we brought the charges we can prove," Bianchi said.

Among the victims listed in the indictments was Virginia Cole, whose daughter, Cary resident Vickie Lund, filed suit in Cook County earlier this year to obtain information about the police investigation.

Cole, whose body was one of three exhumed during the state police inquiry, died Sept. 10, 2006. The charge against Himebaugh alleges she recklessly administered a dosage of morphine to the 78-year-old woman on or about Sept. 10, 2006.

Lund's attorney, Steven Levin, said his clients have mixed feelings about the indictments.

"There's relief that the investigative process is over and someone has been charged, but also grief that they have to go through this," Levin said. "We're angry that this occurred and no one else at the facility knew what was going on."

The facility came under investigation in November 2006 after an employee complained to state Medicaid investigators. The complaint stemmed in part from an unusual increase in the number of deaths at the Woodstock Residence during the first nine months of 2006.

According to the McHenry County coroner's office, 34 facility residents died between January and September 2006, compared to 18 deaths in all of 2005, 18 in 2004 and 17 in 2003.

As part of the investigation, authorities exhumed three bodies of patients and conducted autopsies seeking evidence to suggest they were killed intentionally.

Nursing home administrator Alyssa Nataupsky did not return calls for comment Friday, but previously blamed the accusations on a disgruntled former employee.

Meyer Magence, an attorney for the home's owners, said the incidents in question occurred under prior ownership and has no relation to current management.

"We've turned a page," Magence said. "We have no intention of making the same mistakes."

Himebaugh worked at the home for five years before state police opened their investigation in November 2006, authorities said today. Whitlock has worked at the home for about three years.

Bianchi said he now considers the investigation into the nursing home closed and does not expect further charges.

All the charges against Himebaugh and Whitlock are felonies, normally punishable by a maximum of one to three years in prison.