|Birth name:||Robert Rubane Diaz|
|Also known as:||David Robert Diaz|
|Born:||1938 (age 71–72)
|Number of victims:||12|
|Span of killings:||March 1981–April 1981|
Robert Rubane Diaz was born in 1938 and raised in the Midwest. One of 13 children, he was ill often as a child, which kept him out of school. Unable to finish school, he dropped out after completing 10 grades and joined the United States Marine Corps at age 18. After going AWOL for six weeks, he was discharged due to his inability to acclimate to military life.
Pursuing his childhood dream of working in the medical field, Diaz joined a vocational nursing program and insisted that his relatives call him "Dr. Diaz". He also believed that he was an Egyptian mystic who had been a member of royalty in a former life.
He was married in 1961 and divorced in 1972.
In early 1981, Community Hospital of the Valleys in Perris, California experienced an abnormally large number of deaths among its most elderly patients. To gather evidence, the coroner exhumed or intercepted all the patients who had recently died and he collected tissue samples from them. The coroner found that 11 patients had a supposedly lethal level of the heart drug lidocaine in their system. Investigators focused on Diaz, a male nurse, who worked at the hospital during many of the deaths. They also investigated his previous employment and came up with a 12th patient from another hospital whose exhumed body showed a supposedly lethal level of lidocaine.
High levels of lidocaine were not necessarily indicative of poisoning, as hospital staff often used the drug on its patients. There was no direct evidence against Diaz. No one had seen him inject a patient with a fatal dose of anything. He had no apparent motive to kill anyone. A syringe filled with an especially high solution of lidocaine was found hidden in the Valleys hospital seven months after it closed.
Following his arrest, numerous pre-filled lidocaine syringes were found in Diaz’ home. At least two of these syringes contained 20 percent solutions of lidocaine while marked as two percent (i.e. 10 times the concentration marked). Also found in his home were vials of 20 percent lidocaine and empty syringes, implying that syringes were being refilled with higher concentration than their labels indicated. Diaz explained only that these articles were mistakenly taken from the hospital when absent mindedly left in his shirt pocket. No explanation was given for the apparent tampering.
Diaz claimed the ability to predict patient seizures and encouraged coworkers to take meals/breaks early in anticipation of seizures that shift. In at least one case the predicted seizures did occur. According to his wife, Diaz also spent time staring at the family cat trying to control it with his mind.
Investigators from the public defender’s office found that the hospital’s care was lax. Employees were often unable to read heart monitors and other basic equipment. Doctors often failed to respond to emergencies. During the deaths Diaz reportedly blamed the doctors who showed up late.
It was not unusual for Code Blue alerts to occur nightly and these were not limited to Diaz’ employment tenure. However it was noted during the trial that the death rate at Community Hospital of the Valleys was less than one per month during the 12 months prior to hiring Diaz. During the 3 ½ weeks following Diaz’ employment there were 17 deaths; 14 of these patients were under Diaz’s direct care at the time of seizure and death. This is a monthly death rate of 19.43 per month.
Following standard procedures, Diaz’ defense would be extraordinarily costly to the cash strapped public defender’s office. A new administrator fired all the investigators and implemented a budget defense for Diaz. At trial, Diaz’ defense motioned for a bench trial.
The judge convicted Diaz of 12 counts of first-degree murder. At sentencing the defense failed to present a single character witness; his five children and his wife did not make an appeal. Diaz’s wife believes her husband was responsible based on the evidence presented as well as her personal experiences with him. Initially, however, she supported her husband. The defense’s short plea for mercy was that Diaz had saved the state a considerable amount of money. The judge was not impressed and sentenced Diaz to die by either the gas chamber or lethal injection.
Diaz has since exhausted his state appeals, but in 1998 a federal judge granted him an evidentiary hearing. As of 2007, Diaz remains on death row at San Quentin State Prison.
The trial became a constitutional test case heard by the United States Supreme Court when The Press Enterprise newspaper, of Riverside, California, was denied their request for the transcripts of pretrial hearings. The case, Press-Enterprise Co. v. Superior Court of Riverside County, California, was won by the newspaper in 1986.
At the beginning of the trial Diaz had requested that the public be excluded from preliminary hearings. The Magistrate granted the unopposed request because of the national attention that the case had garnered. At the end of the hearings the Press-Enterprise requested that the transcripts be released, but the request was denied and the records were sealed. The United States Supreme Court decided that the public has the right to witness pretrial hearings in criminal cases, including preliminary hearings.