Kevorkian found not guilty of assisted-suicide

Kevorkian not guilty

May 14, 1996
Web posted at: 1:00 p.m EDT

From Correspondent Ed Garsten

PONTIAC, Michigan (CNN) -- A federal jury acquitted Dr. Jack Kevorkian Tuesday of violating Michigan's common law in two assisted suicides that took place in 1991.

Jurors reached the verdict on their third day of deliberations. It's the third time he's been found innocent of assisted-suicide charges.

If he had been convicted in the most recent case, Kevorkian, 67, could have faced up to 10 years in prison.

Kevorkian was charged with helping Sherry Miller, 43, of Roseville, Michigan, and Marjorie Wantz, 58, of Sodus, Michigan, commit suicide. Miller had multiple sclerosis, and Wantz suffered from severe pelvic pain.

Miller died from inhaling carbon monoxide, while Wantz died from lethal injection.

Theirs were the second and third of the 28 deaths Kevorkian has attended since 1990. On March 8, Kevorkian was acquitted on charges stemming from two 1993 deaths. He also was acquitted in neighboring Wayne County in 1994.

In the other trials, Kevorkian was charged with violating Michigan's now-expired assisted-suicide ban, not its common law, which prohibits aiding a suicide.

Kevorkian defends himself

Kevorkian monday

The retired pathologist showed up the first day of the trial dressed in a Colonial-era costume to mock the trial as a woeful anachronism. He later shed the 18th century duds for his trademark cardigan, but soon bolted from the courtroom in disgust. He showed up only sporadically after that.

However, he did appear in court before Oakland County Circuit Judge David Breck to testify and defend his work.

"See, suicide is not the aim. Eliminating suffering is. But you pay the price with the loss of a life. The patient decided the price was worth it," Kevorkian said last week.

Wantz and Miller died before Michigan's ban on assisted suicides went into effect. The law expired in 1994. But that same year, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that the common law prohibiting the practice was still in effect, opening the way for Kevorkian to be charged.

Kevorkian's lawyer, Geoffrey Fieger, argued that the common law isn't a written law. But, the prosecution countered that it is and that Kevorkian defied it.

'Ending suffering'

As he had argued successfully in Kevorkian's two previous trials, Fieger told the jury that his client was only trying to ease pain and suffering.

"We're not talking about death. We're not talking about killing people. We're talking about ending suffering," Fieger said.

The prosecution said Kevorkian's use of poisonous gas and lethal doses of drugs was not a treatment for pain, but a means to the end of his patients' lives.

With two federal courts ruling in favor of the right to assisted suicide, Kevorkian's defense felt energized. But neither decision directly affects Michigan.

Earlier this month, the Right to Die Coalition of Canada said one of its members, Austin Bastable, 53, of Windsor, Ontario, had committed suicide in the presence of Kevorkian.


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