Susan Ruttan, the feisty office manager Roxanne Melman on L.A. Law, is sweet on and off camera. So when she's talking about her latest role as a killer nurse _ based on a story about a real-life murderer of babies _ you wonder how Ruttan could possibly pull off portraying a perpetrator of such heinous crimes. Asked how she interprets Genene Jones, the accused on the NBC TV-movie Deadly Medicine, Ruttan responds bluntly, "She's a psycho nurse baby killer." But while the actress doesn't seem to be misled about Jones, currently serving a 99-year sentence in the Texas State Prison, she also sees another side. "(Jones) comes across as a sweet person," Ruttan says. "She loved babies, and dedicated her life to being the best pediatric LPN (licensed practical nurse) she could be."
Jones, a divorced mother of two, doted on her own kids and supposedly those in her care at the Texas hospital where she worked. But as Deadly Medicine reveals, the small-town nurse would inject deadly drugs into her patients and then bask in the praise as her care brought the babies back to good health. Only there were about 30 to 60 children over the years who never recovered.
To Ruttan, it's interesting that Jones has never confessed her guilt. "So I have to believe," she says, "that she didn't try to kill these children. She tried to make herself look good by nursing them back to health."
The series of infant deaths are at first linked to Dr. Kathy Holland, played by Veronica Hamel(Hill Street Blues). Dr. Holland hires Jones away from the hospital because she's impressed with how Jones responds in emergency situations. Dr. Holland is a pediatrician who starts her own children's clinic and she tells Jones that this job change will bring Jones much more responsibility. Tragically, it does just that.
One of the first infants to be brought to the clinic dies. Dr. Holland is puzzled because the child, who had a mild cold, appeared healthy. But subsequent tests on the baby reveal that the child had some sort of drug reaction.
Suspicion falls on Dr. Holland, with Jones later hinting to authorities that perhaps the physician was inexperienced and overworked and injected the drug by mistake. When Dr. Holland realizes the horrible truth, Jones tells her, "We were so good together. We could've had our own critical care unit."
But Ruttan, who has a scrubbed, no make-up look for the movie, never pushes Jones into a monster mode. She plays the killer as a proud, rural single mother who's disgusted with interns, doctors and registered nurses who have looked to her for training through the years. Jones sees herself as someone deserving of more recognition in the chain-of-command.
Deadly Medicine is about revolting acts, but Ruttan makes Jones more interesting than the usual true-life criminals portrayed in these headline-driven TV projects.
Then too, Deadly Medicine doesn't push for shock value. Hamel's Dr. Holland is a smart woman who does everything she can to see that Jones never gets near children again. She succeeds but not before losing the life that she had built. Today, Dr. Holland is practicing medicine but she's still denied privileges at the local Texas hospital. Her request for reinstatement is pending in the U.S. District Court.
Airs Monday 9-11 p.m. on NBC (WFLA-Ch. 8.)