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Kevorkian Convicted of 2nd-Degree Murder

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jack Kevorkian, the eccentric former pathologist who for a decade defined and drove the national debate over assisted suicide, was convicted late Friday of second-degree murder in the death of a terminally ill man who had asked for his help.

Separated from the courtroom gallery by a wall of 10 deputy sheriffs, the diminutive 70-year-old Kevorkian stood blank-faced, clasping his hands as the jury foreman declared him guilty of murdering Thomas Youk. He also was found guilty of delivery of a controlled substance.

Youk’s wife, Melody, who had hoped to testify on Kevorkian’s behalf, closed her eyes and shook her head slightly. On the other side of the courtroom, the sister of a 34-year-old woman Kevorkian helped die in 1997 let out a cheerful “Yes!”

Under Michigan law, the retired physician could receive 10 to 25 years in prison on the murder charge, and another seven for using secobarbital to kill Youk.

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Noting that Kevorkian previously had assisted in ending patients’ lives while awaiting trial on assisted-suicide charges, prosecutors asked that his bond be revoked and that he be held over for sentencing. Kevorkian’s attorneys promised he would obey all laws and asked that he remain free.

“Can I have your word?” Oakland County Circuit Judge Jessica Cooper asked Kevorkian.

“I kept my word until now, and I’ll keep it,” Kevorkian said.

Cooper allowed him to remain free until his scheduled sentencing April 14.

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Kevorkian’s lawyers pledged to appeal the verdict, but he is almost certain to be imprisoned pending the outcome of any appeals.

“We believe it is certainly injustice to try and equate an act of compassion with an act of murder,” attorney David Gorosh said after the verdict. “He was invited into the Youk home. Certainly [Youk] had every right to end that pain, as every American does. Dr. Kevorkian will be lauded as a hero in history.”

Oakland County prosecutor David Gorcyca, who has received numerous threats since filing the murder charges, said that the jury had granted Kevorkian his “ultimate wish.”

“It has never been my intent to participate in the martyrdom of Dr. Kevorkian,” Gorcyca said. “The verdict stands for the sanctity of human life. Whether you agree or not with the verdict, what Dr. Kevorkian did to Tom Youk, in the state of Michigan, was second-degree murder.”

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Unable to control his movements or even swallow--and afraid of choking to death on his own saliva--Youk, 52, was in the latter stages of Lou Gehrig’s disease when he summoned Kevorkian Sept. 15. Recording their meeting on video, Kevorkian presented Youk a consent form, which he signed. Then he asked Youk to think about his decision, saying: “Let’s not hurry into this.”

Two days later, Youk was ready to go, both his wife and brother, Terry, said this week as they watched the trial unfold.

In the videotape that prosecutors played for the jury, Youk was seen sitting in a chair, clad in a plaid shirt, his eyeglasses on. Kevorkian searched for a vein, then gave Youk the first of three injections that rendered him unconscious and then stopped his breathing and his heart.

The act marked a milestone in Kevorkian’s tireless crusade to legalize euthanasia. He himself injected Youk with the fatal drug cocktail, rather than employing his so-called suicide machine, which allowed about 130 other patients to administer the drugs themselves.

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CBS aired an edited version of the tape on its Sunday night program “60 Minutes,” along with an interview in which Kevorkian challenged prosecutors to charge him. They did.

And a man who shuns worldly possessions, living mostly off Social Security checks and the generosity of friends, had shouldered the debate forward once again.

The division over the issue was evident all week at the Oakland County courthouse. A group called Not Dead Yet, made up of disabled people who contend euthanasia generally and Kevorkian specifically targets people depressed over their disability, protested daily.

Ebba Allerellie and her daughter, Tina, drove from Guelph, Canada, in hopes of seeing Kevorkian put away. Kevorkian had helped Tina’s sister, Karen, take her life in 1997. Her body was found at a nearby Holiday Inn, along with a note to the coroner detailing Kevorkian’s assistance.

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Karen Allerellie, 34, suffered from multiple sclerosis. But according to the family her depression over her disease was far worse than the symptoms.

“She had a terrible day the day she wrote her letter” to Kevorkian, Tina Allerellie said, having had a bout of incontinence while attending a meeting. “But she walked up three flights of stairs that day. He preys on people who are weak and vulnerable.”

Terry Youk, meanwhile, flew in from France, where he is making a documentary in the hopes of testifying on Kevorkian’s behalf. His brother, he said, “tried everything. He didn’t want to die. But he didn’t consider what he was doing as living.”

Cooper ruled the Youks’ testimony would be unfairly prejudicial in a murder case, and neither was allowed to take the stand. That left Kevorkian with no witnesses and none of the emotional testimony that helped make four previous juries unwilling to imprison him for carrying out the last wishes of people in agony.

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Additionally, Kevorkian insisted on acting as his own attorney--a move that prompted his longtime attorney, Geoffrey Fieger, to cut ties with the former pathologist, saying: “I don’t let my clients commit their own assisted suicide.”

Having promised to starve to death in prison if convicted, Kevorkian seemed to be doing just that during the trial, some observers said, his only defense being a scattershot closing statement that centered on his intent to end Youk’s suffering, not kill him, and the philosophical rightness of euthanasia.

“There are some acts which common sense says are not crimes,” he told the jury.

Then, first thing Friday morning, as the jury began its second day of deliberations, Kevorkian stunned the courtroom by asking to have his attorneys handle the rest of the case.

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“I’m going to take your good advice and withdraw,” he told Cooper.

“Now you’re going to do it?” said Cooper, who had all but begged him throughout the trial not to act as his own counsel.

After Cooper agreed, Gorosh filed a motion to dismiss the case. When prosecutor John Skrzynski had objected during Kevorkian’s closing argument that the defense was introducing new material, he had suggested in front of jurors that Kevorkian should have taken the stand in his own defense, Gorosh argued.

Skrzynski vehemently disagreed, and Cooper dismissed the motion for a mistrial.

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After 12 hours of deliberations--during which Kevorkian sat silent in the courtroom--the jury sent a note saying it reached a verdict. Sheriff’s deputies stood elbow-to-elbow between the gallery and the defendant as the judge and jury entered.

The jury foreman dug a note from his pocket and read the verdicts.

And Kevorkian, who has averaged more than one assisted suicide a month since 1990 and walked away from four previous trials, became a murderer.


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