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Kevorkian Case: Judge denies request for new trial

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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) -- In a ruling anticipated by Dr. Jack Kevorkian and his appellate lawyers, the trial judge who sent the reputed "Dr. Death" to prison in April rejected his request for a new trial.

Judge Jessica Cooper's five-page written ruling rejected Kevorkian's claim that one of his trial advisers, David Gorosh, gave him inadequate legal counsel. Despite Gorosh's repeated attempts to dissuade him, Kevorkian chose to represent himself at trial and was convicted March 26 of second-degree murder and delivery of a controlled substance for his role in the televised death of Lou Gehrig's disease patient Thomas Youk. The 71-year-old retired pathologist is currently serving a 10-to-25-year sentence.

"Dr. Kevorkian knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waived his right to be represented by trial counsel," Judge Cooper wrote. "The court repeatedly questioned the defendant, at numerous and various times during the trial proceedings, whether or not he wished to continue in this regard. Despite said inquiries, the defendant continued to waive his right to counsel."

Judge Cooper also noted that she repeatedly warned Kevorkian about the dangers of self-representation and cited a State Supreme Court ruling that defendants who represent themselves cannot complain about the quality of counsel on appeal.

Mayer Morganroth, who is representing Kevorkian on appeal but was not his attorney at his last trial, told The Detroit Free Press that he was not surprised by Judge Cooper's ruling and that he would appeal to the Michigan Court of Appeals.

"We both anticipated it," Morganroth said. "We don't agree with it, but all along we expected this to go through the appellate process."

Morganroth indicated that he would focus on Judge Cooper's refusal to admit the testimony of Youk's widow and brother in the petition to the Michigan Court of Appeals. Judge Cooper ruled that the Youks' testimony was inadmissible at trial because it alluded to the alleged victim's pain and suffering.

However, Kevorkian claimed that the Youks would be able to help him prove that he did not intend to kill their loved one and only meant to end his suffering. In a pre-trial ruling, the judge ruled that pain and suffering evidence was relevant to assisted suicide but not murder. To prevent the defense from using that evidence, prosecutors dropped the assisted suicide charge against Kevorkian, handicapping his defense strategy.

In addition, Morganroth also will argue that prosecutor John Skrzynski's objections during Kevorkian's closing arguments criticized the defendant's choice not to testify at trial. In front of the jury, Skrzynski told Judge Cooper, "He [Kevorkian] can't testify now. He could have ..." Judge Cooper stopped Skrzynski before he could finish his sentence. Gorosh has argued that Skrzynski's suggestions about Kevorkian's failure to testify prejudiced the jury. Kevorkian had a constitutional right not to testify, and lawyers are forbidden from criticizing defendants who use that right.

After Morganroth files the appeal, oral arguments could be scheduled within nine to 12 months. If Kevorkian's bid for a new trial fails before the Court of Appeals, he could get a chance to take his case to the Michigan Supreme Court and challenge Michigan's law making assisted suicide a felony punishable up to five years in prison.

Kevorkian helped Youk die weeks after that law went into effect. When Kevorkian videotaped his assisted suicide of Youk, which was broadcast nationally by "60 Minutes," the former pathologist challenged Michigan investigators to prosecute him so that the national debate over euthanasia could be settled finally. He believed that if he was acquitted, prosecutors could no longer come after him for helping terminally-ill patients die. Before his conviction, Kevorkian reportedly had participated in over 100 assisted suicides and had been tried on four separate occasions. Those trials ended in three acquittals and a mistrial. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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