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Kevorkian Case: Kevorkian trial set

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Editor's Note: As part of's new Crime section, we are archiving some of the most interesting content from This story was first published in 1998.

(Court TV) -- Pleading not guilty on all counts, Dr. Jack Kevorkian was arraigned on charges of first-degree murder, assisted suicide and delivery of a controlled substance for the assisted suicide of Thomas Youk and learned he will face trial in early March 1999.

Michigan Judge Jessica Cooper scheduled Kevorkian's trial for March 1. Kevorkian's attorney, David Gorosh, said that his client looks forward to the trial.

"Dr. Kevorkian eagerly awaits his trial and can't wait for the matter to be litigated in court," Gorosh said. "He is fully confident that a jury will acquit him of all the charges against him."

During a Dec. 9 preliminary hearing, Judge Phyllis McMillan ruled that Kevorkian must stand trial for Youk's death and based her decision mostly on the tape of Youk's assisted suicide seen on CBS's "60 Minutes" on Nov. 23. Michigan prosecutors indicted Kevorkian Nov. 25 after viewing unedited and edited versions of the tapes.

A national audience saw Kevorkian challenge prosecutors to charge him because he wanted to settle the ongoing debate over euthanasia. Youk, who suffered from Lou Gehrig's Disease, died Sept. 17, approximately three weeks after Michigan enacted a law making assisted suicide a felony punishable by up to five years in prison.

While he said he would not comment on whether the public is less sympathetic to Kevorkian, prosecutor John Skrynski said that he believes a jury will focus less on the emotional aspect of euthanasia and more on the facts shown in Youk's videotaped death.

In her ruling, McMillan said that it was clear from the tape that Kevorkian intended to help Youk kill himself, that he delivered a controlled substance by injecting him with lethal doses of drugs and that his help in planing Youk's death proved premeditation.

"It was clear that Dr. Kevorkian planned to help Mr. Youk end his life over the course of a few days," Judge McMillan said. "He had ample time to consider the pros and cons of his actions. At the beginning of the tape, Kevorkian said that he was doing this in connection to Mr. Youk's request to end his life."

At the preliminary hearing, Michigan prosecutors claimed that Kevorkian displayed premeditation when he videotaped Youk's death, challenged prosecutors to settle the euthanasia debate and injected poison into Youk's arm. They played both the unedited and edited versions of the tape where Kevorkian is shown having a weak and barely intelligible Youk sign consent forms for his assisted death.

Youk had trouble breathing and swallowing properly and would often choke on his saliva. He also had to eat through a feeding tube. Like Kevorkian's previous patients, Youk initially thought he was going inject himself with lethal doses of drugs by operating an apparatus.

While he conceded that Youk could have operated the machine, Kevorkian said that he persuaded Youk to allow him to directly administer the fatal drug because it was more efficient and more humane. Kevorkian also told Youk of his intent to use him to extend the national debate over assisted suicide to euthanasia. Youk, Kevorkian said, was hesitant at first, but agreed to his suggestion. Despite Youk's consent, prosecutors showed that even Kevorkian admitted on the tape that his motives in Youk's death may have been selfish.

"I'm fighting for need, for me," Kevorkian said on the tape. "I'm going to be 71 years old, and you don't know what'll happen when you get older. I would like to preserve my right to die the way I want to die, especially if I'm suffering."

At the Dec. 9 hearing, Gorosh argued that prosecutors cannot charge Kevorkian with both first-degree murder and assisted suicide because the charges contradict each other. Kevorkian's defense also challenged the delivery of a controlled substance charge, contending that the state legislature intended to apply that charge to drug traffickers.

Since his indictment, Kevorkian has been free on $750,000 bond with the promise that he not participate in any assisted suicides. Although he is being represented by Gorosh and Lisa Dwyer, Kevorkian will be participating in his own defense.

Although Kevorkian has acknowledged participating in over 100 assisted suicides since 1990, Youk's death was the first time he directly administered a fatal drug. On the tape, Kevorkian injects muscle relaxant into Youk's arm to stop his breathing, and then injects potassium chloride to stop his heart. According to Kevorkian, in previous cases, he had an apparatus that allowed the patient to administer lethal doses of gas or drugs.

While prosecutors call Kevorkian a murderer, Thomas Youk's relatives hail him as a humanitarian. Youk's relatives have insisted that the Sept. 17 assisted suicide was the only option and were grateful his suffering ended.

A retired pathologist, Kevorkian, 70, has been acquitted in three out of the four trials involving his assisted suicides. The fourth ended in a mistrial. If convicted of first-degree murder in Youk's death, Kevorkian would face life in prison without parole. Kevorkian has already threatened to starve himself to death in prison if he is convicted. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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