The jury in the assisted-suicide case against retired pathologist Jack Kevorkian began deliberating Thursday after his lawyer urged the panel not to make a crime out of "kindness and compassion."
The deliberations started only one day after the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a Washington state law against assisting a suicide is unconstitutional.
Kevorkian, 67, could get up to four years in prison on each of the two counts in the deaths of two ailing patients who breathed carbon monoxide from a canister in 1993.
"We are about to make history," defense attorney Geoffrey Fieger said in closing arguments. "Not so much for Dr. Kevorkian . . . but more for the fact that no prosecutor can ever attempt to convince free Americans that any law says kindness and compassion is a crime."
Prosecutor John Skrzynski, however, pointed to the black tanks that held the gas and said: "This stuff is not medicine. It's a toxin. It kills."
The key issue is Kevorkian's intent. The now-expired Michigan law under which he was charged exempts someone who provides medication or procedures that hasten death, so long as the intent was to relieve pain and not to kill.
Kevorkian insisted he intended only to relieve the suffering of Merian Frederick, 72, and Dr. Ali Khalili, 61, who died in a suburban Detroit apartment rented by Kevorkian. Frederick suffered from Lou Gehrig's disease; Khalili had bone cancer.
Skrzynski described Kevorkian as a man with a lifelong fascination with death, whose goal was acceptance of "obitoriums," where doctors could perform experiments on patients before they died.
Fieger said Kevorkian is guilty only of helping people in intolerable pain end their lives with dignity.
Kevorkian has taken part in 27 suicides since 1990. The only other time he stood trial for assisted suicide, in 1994, he was acquitted.