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Nurse admits 18 more slayings

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ZURICH, Switzerland — A Swiss nurse who confessed to the "mercy" killing of nine elderly women in July has admitted responsibility for 18 more deaths of old people in nursing homes and hospitals, officials said on Tuesday.

The man Swiss media have dubbed the "Angel of Death" told investigators he had put his victims — mostly old women — out of their misery by injecting them with drug overdoses or smothering them with plastic bags and towels.

Sometimes the 32-year-old man, whom authorities did not name, drugged them first and then blocked their nose and mouth until they stopped breathing, investigating magistrate Orvo Nieminen said in a statement.

"As far as his motive goes, he is sticking to his previous comments that he acted out of sympathy, compassion, empathy and salvation of the people involved," the magistrate said.

"On the other hand, he also acknowledged that in several cases he had been overwhelmed by caring for the people involved. He added that in some cases he felt relieved, somehow liberated, after the person had died."

The case has shocked the country despite its relatively lenient attitude to euthanasia.

The original nine deaths came to light at the end of May after 10 people died in a special unit for the senile in a home for the elderly in the central city of Lucerne, where the man had worked since December 2000.

The suspect, whom authorities have described as well-educated, was arrested on June 28 after the home's authorities alerted police.

Investigators widened their probe to include other homes and hospitals where the man had worked, poring over every death. Five bodies were exhumed as part of the investigation, which remains open.

They traced 12 mercy killings to one home for the elderly in the central Swiss canton of Obwalden and said the rest happened in other homes or hospitals.

Nieminen said authorities still wanted more information about what motivated the man to end the lives of people in his care. He was also to undergo psychiatric tests.

Euthanasia is tolerated in a number of Swiss cantons, provided strict rules are followed.

The Swiss Exit organisation for voluntary euthanasia is also active in the canton of Lucerne, accompanying terminally ill people who have decided to end their days, Hess said.

Active euthanasia is outlawed in Switzerland but the country does not regard it as a crime if a doctor assists in suicides by prescribing lethal drugs that patients close to a painful death take themselves to end their suffering.