W. Va.: ex-Nurse Accused of Drugging, Killing Husband for Insurance Payment

July 11, 2007

A Morgantown, W. Va., nurse drugged and killed her husband before setting their house on fire because she was unhappy with her job and her marriage, and hoped to gain nearly $700,000 in insurance payments, prosecutors alleged during opening arguments Monday.

Michelle Michael, a 35-year-old former nurse who worked at Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown, faces first-degree murder and arson charges in the death of her husband, James Michael, on the morning of Nov. 29, 2005.

The woman who used to work in the pediatrics intensive care unit allegedly administered a fatal dose of the drug rocuronium, which is used to “paralyze the body, muscle by muscle,” said Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Perri DeChristopher. An autopsy determined that James Michael was dead before a fire in his bedroom consumed his body.

“It’s what they call a floor drug, and it’s available like Tylenol in their medicine cabinets (at the hospital),” DeChristopher told the jury. “Any regular nurse who had worked, as the defendant had, in an intensive care unit for years would be familiar with the use and the effects of that drug.”

DeChristopher said Michelle Michael stood to gain $500,000 from her husband’s life insurance policy and at least $200,000 from a fire insurance policy.

Defense Attorney James Zimarowski said Michael has an alibi for the time of the murder, and accused the head of the investigation, former Morgantown detective Paul Mezzanotte, of overlooking other suspects.

“Detective Mezzanotte didn’t conduct an investigation so much as he did an inquisition,” Zimarowski said during opening argument. He said James Michael’s ex-wife and a former business partner should have been investigated more closely.

Testimony was scheduled to begin Wednesday afternoon.

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