Brussels: A Belgian former nurse and Roman Catholic deacon confessed on the first day of his trial to killing up to 20 people in what he said was a bid to end their “suffering”, local reports said Tuesday.
The admission by Ivo Poppe, 61, who has been dubbed the “Deacon of Death” by Belgian media, is the first time he has publicly given an estimate of the number of his victims.
“Between 10 and 20 — 20 maximum. That’s approximate but it’s around that number,” Poppe told the court in the scenic northern town of Bruges under initial questioning by the judge on Monday, according to transcripts in Belgian newspapers.
“I wanted to end their suffering, these people weren’t really living any more.”
The married father-of-three expressed regret for the way he carried out the killings, saying: “If it was now, I would call a palliative care team.”
Poppe either gave his victims the tranquilliser Valium or injected air into their veins to cause a fatal embolism.
Most of the victims were elderly people suffering from physical or psychological ailments at a clinic in Menin, a town near the French border. He worked there in the 1980s and 1990s but continued to act as a pastoral visitor until 2011 after he was ordained as a deacon.
During an initial investigation he told police his victims also included his own mother, his stepfather and two uncles.
He was first arrested in 2014 after authorities were told that he had confided in his psychiatrist that he had “euthanised dozens of people”.
The bearded, bespectacled Poppe, who appeared in court wearing a chunky cardigan and open-necked shirt, explained the context of his comments to the psychiatrist, whom he consulted on the advice of his wife.
“I wanted someone to help me with my nightmares, I really needed therapy. That’s why I talked about dozens of cases, it was deliberately exaggerated,” Poppe told the court.
The trial is scheduled to last two weeks. Poppe faces life in jail if convicted.
Belgium legalised euthanasia for adults in 2002 — after the period when most of Poppe’s alleged killings took place — although it has to be carried out under strictly controlled conditions.
In 2014 it extended the right to children so long as they are conscious and capable of making rational decisions.