POCOMOKE CITY -- The daughter of an elderly woman who authorities believe was intentionally given a fatal dose of morphine at a nursing home said she thinks the death was an act of cold-blooded murder, not mercy.
"I don't think it was a mercy killing," Margaret Perdue said yesterday. "Why would it be? What reason is there to call it mercy? She wasn't in any pain. There was no suffering."
Mrs. Perdue's mother, 91-year-old Maidie Lang Shay, died Jan. 21 at the Hartley Hall Nursing Home here, where she had been a patient for four months.
Rumors that Mrs. Shay had been given an illegal dose of morphine gave rise to speculation that her death was a mercy killing.
Traces of morphine were later found in the woman's remains, and on Thursday a Worcester County grand jury indicted three former nursing home employees, including the director of nursing, in connection with her death.
Although Mrs. Shay was terminally ill when she was admitted to the facility last October, family members and nursing home administrators insisted she never complained of being in pain and was never prescribed morphine.
Mrs. Perdue, who once worked at Hartley Hall, said she visited her mother regularly and noticed in January that she was sleeping more often.
In the few days before Mrs. Shay's death, Mrs. Perdue said, the woman was asleep most of the time and unable to talk when she was awake.
"She'd open her eyes like she was trying to tell me something," Mrs. Perdue said.
"What was she trying to say? Now I know."
Mrs. Perdue and other family members showed up yesterday at a news conference in Pocomoke City planned by Hartley Hall administrators and board members, who have been trying for weeks to reassure a shocked community that Mrs. Shay's suspicious death was an isolated case.
Louis Huber, president of the Baltimore-based Housing and Health Services Inc., which manages Hartley Hall, called the death "probably the most painful and embarrassing thing Hartley Hall has ever gone through."
He said many patients and employees shed "sincere tears" when they learned of the three indictments against the former staff members, who were well-known in the 69-bed facility.
Charged with first-degree murder and illegal possession of morphine were Marjorie Karen Alpaugh, 51, the nursing home director and a Princess Anne resident, and licensed practical nurse Delores Lee Walker,47, of Fruitland. A third woman, registered nurse Sherrie Lee Agar, 33, of Melfa, Va., was charged with conspiracy to commit murder and three drug violations.
Mr. Huber said yesterday he did not know the motive behind Mrs. Shay's alleged murder.
Herman Perdue, Mrs. Perdue's lawyer, said Mrs. Shay had suffered a stroke, but it was not known to what extent that affected her deteriorating health.
"It was known, however, that she never experienced any discernible pain and was not on any pain medication," said the lawyer, who is not related to Mrs. Perdue.