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Kevorkian Case: Judge agrees to drop assisted suicide charge

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Editor's Note: As part of CNN.com's new Crime section, we are archiving some of the most interesting content from CourtTVNews.com. This story was first published in 1999.

(Court TV) -- A Michigan judge has granted prosecutors' request to drop the assisted suicide charge against Dr. Jack Kevorkian leaving only the murder charge intact for his upcoming trial.

On Thursday, two days after a Judge Jessica Cooper refused to exclude evidence about the failing health of Kevorkian's last patient, prosecutors announced they would focus only on a murder conviction. On Tuesday, Judge Cooper refused to drop the first-degree murder and assisted suicide charges against Kevorkian but admitted evidence about Thomas Youk's battle with Lou Gehrig's disease.

In her ruling Judge Cooper said Youk's pain and suffering, while irrelevant to the murder charge, was relevant to the assisted suicide count. Prosecutors had wanted Kevorkian's trial to focus solely on the question of whether the retired pathologist purposely intended to kill Youk, not on the emotion of the national debate over euthanasia.

In dropping the assisted suicide charge, prosecutors limited the medical evidence pertaining to Youk's disease and what they called Kevorkian's opportunity to generate sympathy for Youk and advocate that the jury nullify Michigan law. The defense, prosecutors said, wanted to use Youk's failing health to implicitly encourage jurors to condone Kevorkian's actions.

"We want to focus on Jack Kevorkian's behavior and be certain that jurors are not confused by evidence of Thomas Youk's medical conditions," prosecutor David Gorcyca said.

To gain acquittals in his client's three previous trials, Kevorkian's former attorney, Geoffrey Fieger, relied on emphasizing the patients' suffering and argued that his client only intended to relieve pain. However, Kevorkian's current attorney, David Gorosh, has said in court that he does not plan to use a consent or euthanasia defense.

Gorosh suggested that he plans to prove his client only intended to relieve Youk's suffering. With the prosecution dropping the assisted suicide charge, the defense may be hampered by the inability to mention Youk's disease  and by Kevorkian's videotaped words and actions.

On Nov. 25, 1998, Michigan prosecutors charged Kevorkian with first-degree murder, criminally assisted suicide and delivery of a controlled substance after viewing unedited and edited tapes of Youk's death, which was televised Nov. 23 on CBS' "60 Minutes."

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

In both the unedited and edited versions of the tape, Kevorkian is shown having Youk sign consent forms for his assisted death. Like Kevorkian's previous patients, Youk initially thought he was going to inject himself with lethal doses of drugs by operating an apparatus. But unlike his previous cases, Kevorkian administered the fatal "death potion" to Youk himself.

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. He said he told Youk of his intent to use him to extend the national debate over assisted suicide to euthanasia. Prosecutors will focus on Kevorkian's stated intentions and his actual administration of the fatal drugs in their attempts to convict him of murder.

Jury selection in Kevorkian's trial is set to begin March 22. If convicted of first-degree murder, the 71-year-old retired pathologist could face life in prison. Kevorkian has vowed to starve himself to death if sent to prison. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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