LOS ANGELES (AP) _ A respiratory therapist who called himself the ``Angel of Death'' struck a deal to avoid the death penalty Tuesday, pleading guilty to murdering six elderly patients with drug injections.
He also pleaded guilty to attempting to murder a seventh patient.
Efren Saldivar, 32, agreed to seven consecutive life sentences in prison without the possibility of parole. He will be sentenced on April 17.
Nearly inaudibly, Saldivar answered ``guilty'' to each count.
Saldivar killed the six patients in 1996 and 1997 while working at Glendale Adventist Medical Center, injecting them with a muscle relaxant that stopped their breathing.
He told police in 1998 that he might have contributed to ``anywhere from 100 to 200'' deaths and actively killed up to 50 patients by giving drugs or withholding treatment. He spent nine years as a hospital worker.
He later recanted in television interviews, saying he fabricated his statements because he was depressed and wanted to die.
Saldivar was charged in January 2001 after authorities exhumed 20 bodies and found the drug Pavulon in the remains of six of them, ages 75 to 87.
``It still seems so unreal,'' said Larry Schlegel, whose 77-year-old mother, Eleanora, was found dead in her hospital bed in 1997. ``It's just that whole thing that it can never happen to you.''
Seven lawsuits have been filed against the hospital. Four have been dismissed. Asatryan's family accepted a $60,000 settlement. Alfaro's family settled for an undisclosed amount.