Decades-old grudge linked to murder charges

MEDICAL MYSTERY: A former nurse anesthetist is accused of poisoning a woman she believed had stolen her high-school boyfriend years before


Sat, Oct 28, 2006 - Page 7

For five years, the death of Sandra Baker Joyner after a mini-facelift was attributed to medical error. But last month, investigators proposed a more sinister explanation.

As she lay bandaged in the recovery room, Joyner was poisoned by a nurse anesthetist who believed Joyner had stolen her boyfriend back in high school some 30 years ago, officials say.

The nurse anesthetist, Sally Jordan Hill, 50, is jailed without bail on first-degree murder charges. On Thursday, prosecutors announced they would not seek the death penalty.

Joyner, 45, had gone to the office of Dr Peter Tucker in 2001 for a facelift, fat grafts to her lips and laser therapy on her eyelids and facial scars. But she went into respiratory arrest in the recovery room and was taken to a hospital, where she died several days later after being taken off life support. An autopsy blamed her death on a lack of oxygen to the brain caused by respiratory arrest.

At a court hearing last month, Chuck Henson, a Charlotte-Mecklenburg detective, said he believes Hill poisoned the patient by injecting her with fentanyl, a powerful painkiller.

And he testified that two people -- the plastic surgeon and a technician -- recall hearing Hill say Joyner stole her high school boyfriend. That comment was said to have been made during Joyner's initial visit to Tucker's plastic surgery practice, in 1999.

Hill and Joyner were students at Olympic High School in Charlotte in the early 1970s. Joyner was a member of the Class of 1973; Hill graduated a year later.

The medical board blamed Hill for Joyner's death, calling her "grossly negligent" in administering fentanyl without the plastic surgeon's permission and for taking too long to alert the doctor that Joyner was having problems. The plastic surgeon took responsibility for the death in a 2003 agreement with the board but kept his license. Hill gave hers up.

It is not clear why it took until this year for Hill to be charged.