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Kevorkian Case: Video of killing shown to jury

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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) -- Confident that they have proven intent to kill, Michigan prosecutors rested their case in the murder trial of Dr. Jack Kevorkian after playing the videotape of Thomas Youk's death and calling the medical examiner and investigators in the case.

Prosecutors began presenting their murder case by playing jurors the videotape showing Kevorkian's involvement in Youk's death. In the edited and unedited tapes shown to jurors, Kevorkian is shown having a weak and barely intelligible Youk, who had Lou Gehrig's disease, sign consent forms for his assisted death.

Kevorkian repeatedly asks Youk, "Tom, do you want to do this? Do you want to do this?" His speech slurred by his disease, Youk says, "Yes" and nods in affirmation. Kevorkian then hooks Youk to an EKG and injects muscle relaxant into Youk's arm to stop his breathing.

On the tapes, Youk then appears to be asleep. After asking Youk if he's asleep, Kevorkian then injects potassium chloride to stop Youk's heart.

"Now there's a straight line," Kevorkian says on the tape. "His heart has stopped."

Prosecutors also showed Kevorkian's "60 Minutes" interview with Mike Wallace in which he explained his reasons for submitting the tapes and asking the CBS program to show it to a national audience.

"I've got to force them [prosecutors] to act," Kevorkian said. "Either they go or I go...If they don't prosecute me, then that means they don't think what I'm doing is a crime."

"I'm fighting for need, for me, and for everybody else's right," Kevorkian continues on the tape. "If people think what I'm doing is selfish, then so be it."

Kevorkian told Wallace that Youk's disease had progressed to the point that he could barely swallow and breathe properly. Youk, Kevorkian claimed, was terrified of choking to death. Kevorkian also said that he gave Youk one week to ponder his decision to die. However, one day after their first meeting, Kevorkian said Youk's brother called him and said "Tom wants to go now."

According to Kevorkian, in previous cases he had an apparatus that allowed the patient to administer lethal doses of gas or drugs. Like Kevorkian's previous patients, Youk initially thought he was going to inject himself with lethal doses. But instead Kevorkian administered the fatal "death potion" to Youk himself, inviting prosecutors to charge him with first-degree murder for the first time.

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. The reputed "Dr. Death" was charged with first-degree murder after "60 Minutes" showed the tape to a national audience on November 23. Kevorkian was originally charged with murder, assisted suicide, and delivery of a controlled substance, but prosecutors dropped the assisted suicide charge to prevent the defense from presenting evidence about Youk's pain and suffering.

In presenting the videotaped evidence, prosecutors showed selective clips that did not focus on Youk's condition and did not mention the words "assisted suicide." Kevorkian has said he told Youk of his intent to use him to extend the national debate over assisted suicide to euthanasia.

Representing himself in his murder trial, Kevorkian had a chance to confront a frequent opponent of his in past trials for assisted suicide, county medical examiner L.J. Dragovic. The medical examiner, who oversaw Youk's autopsy, has said in past that there is no such thing as assisted suicide, that it's murder.

On Tuesday, Dragovic said that Lou Gehrig's disease had caused Youk's body to deteriorate. But Dragovic said Youk did not die from the disease but from the fatal dose of chemicals injected into his body. The doctor also said there was a substance on Youk's arm that appeared to conceal the puncture wounds on his arms.

During cross-examination by Kevorkian, Dragovic admitted that not all homicides are murders. He also conceded that while Youk did not die from Lou Gehrig's disease, his death was imminent. Dragovic did not give an opinion on how soon Youk would have died from the disease. Kevorkian also asked Dragovic if he believed in euthanasia, prompting prosecutors to object. Judge Jessica Cooper upheld the objection, saying that euthanasia was not relevant to Kevorkian's trial.

After the prosecution rested, Kevorkian tried to get pictures of Youk before his battle with Lou Gehrig's disease admitted at trial. But prosecutor John Skrzynski objected, arguing that the pictures were irrelevant to the charges and that the defense was only going to use the proposed evidence to generate sympathy for Youk and condone Kevorkian's actions.

Kevorkian also wanted Judge Cooper to admit the testimony of Youk's wife, Melody, claiming that she could testify about his intent. Judge Cooper was expected to rule on the admissibility of Mrs. Youk's testimony after a lunch break.

After her husband's death, Melody Youk thanked Kevorkian and said she did not consider his deeds murder, but an act of mercy. Mrs. Youk would be able to give jurors insight into her late husband's pain and suffering, but that testimony is inadmissible. Prosecutors believe her testimony about Kevorkian's intent to ease her husband's pain would be hearsay. Without Mrs. Youk's testimony, Kevorkian could have a difficult time proving his intent without testifying himself.

Kevorkian argued Monday in his opening statement that he did not intend to kill Youk, but rather felt compelled to do so because his duty as a physician demanded it.

Kevorkian compared his situation to that of an executioner, arguing that the executioner also doesn't intend to kill, but has a job to do  a job that society sanctions. If convicted of first-degree murder, Kevorkian could face life in prison. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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