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Kevorkian Case: Prosecutors rest their short case

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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 1999.

(Court TV) -- Dr. Jack Kevorkian may need to testify on his behalf to avoid a conviction for first-degree murder when his trial resumes Thursday.

Confident that they have proven intent to kill, Michigan prosecutors rested their case after playing the videotape of Thomas Youk's death and calling the medical examiner and two investigating officers to the stand.

Kevorkian tried to convince Judge Jessica Cooper to admit the testimony of Melody Youk, Thomas' widow. After her husband's death, Melody Youk thanked Kevorkian and said she did not consider his deed a murder, but rather an act of mercy. She would have given insight into his intentions, Kevorkian said.

Kevorkian has claimed that he never intended to kill Youk but wanted to relieve his suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease. Outside of the presence of the jury, Mrs. Youk answered questions about conversations she and her late husband had with Kevorkian before his death.

"What we hoped might be accomplished is that you would help us bring an end to his situation," Mrs. Youk said. "The word 'kill' never came up. The conversations focused on relieving Tom's suffering. Murder never appeared in our conversations....that was not our goal."

Prosecutor John Skrzynski opposed Mrs. Youk's testimony, arguing that her claims are hearsay and support a consent defense, which is not a legal defense under Michigan law. In addition, the prosecutor said, Mrs. Youk's testimony alludes to the pain and suffering evidence that is not relevant to the murder charge against Kevorkian and inadmissible at trial. Skrzynski also suggested that her testimony would generate sympathy for her husband and also implicitly condone Kevorkian's actions.

But Kevorkian disagreed, claiming that his conversations with the Youks indicate his intentions as a physician, their goals when they first approached him, and the consequences of his intentions.

"My intent is not to kill," Kevorkian argued to Judge Cooper. "But it is my duty as a physician to ease suffering. My intent is tailored towards their ultimate goal, which some people call murder, some call assisted suicide. To turn away from people who are suffering intolerably would compromising my integrity as a dedicated physician, which I am. It would kill me...that's why I don't fear jail."

But Judge Cooper sided with prosecutors and felt that Kevorkian's arguments focused more on his opposition to Michigan's refusal to make assisted suicide legal and more suited for arguments before State Supreme Court. She said that his theories did not focus on the facts of the murder case and repeatedly suggested that he might want his legal advisers, David Gorosh and Lisa Dwyer, to make the evidentiary arguments.

"In the waiver of counsel, you have put yourself in a difficult position that involves legal arguments about hearsay and state of mind evidence," Judge Cooper said. "Just as you exercised your constitutional right to self-representation, you can exercise your right to counsel."

Kevorkian also indicated that he wanted to bring Youk's brother to the stand. But prosecutors also opposed his testimony for similar reasons they objected to Mrs. Youk's testimony. On Wednesday, Kevorkian's legal advisers will submit written arguments in another effort to get the Youks' testimony admitted.

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 a pre-trial hearing, Judge Cooper ruled that evidence about Youk's condition was relevant to assisted suicide but not murder.

Without the Youks' testimony, Kevorkian may have a difficult time proving his intent without testifying himself. During arguments outside the jury's presence, Kevorkian pointed out to prosecutors that only he knows his intent  and he may have to testify to convince jurors.

Tuesday morning, prosecutors attempted to prove what they believed was Kevorkian's intent to kill Thomas Youk by playing the videotape showing his involvement in the 52-year-old'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 injects muscle relaxant into Youk's arm to stop his breathing and 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."

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.

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.

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.

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 Cooper upheld the objection, saying that euthanasia was not relevant to Kevorkian's trial.

Testimony in Kevorkian's trial is expected to resume Thursday. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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