Mistrial declared in Kevorkian case
Retrial a possibilityJune 12, 1997
Web posted at: 2:41 p.m. EDT (1441 GMT)
IONIA, Michigan (CNN) -- A judge declared a mistrial in Dr. Jack Kevorkian's fourth assisted suicide trial Thursday, saying that inflammatory opening statements by defense attorney Geoffrey Fieger tainted the jury.
The decision by Ionia County Circuit Judge Charles Miel, only a day after the trial got under way, abruptly ended a bid by a small-town prosecutor in central Michigan to convict the assisted suicide activist after three trials in the Detroit area in other assisted suicide cases had failed.
It was not immediately clear if Kevorkian would be retried on the charge, which carried a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Fieger said the mistrial ends any chances of Kevorkian being prosecuted on the charges since the issue of double-jeopardy would be raised. But Ionia County Prosecutor Ray Voet said he would have to "take some time" before deciding if he would seek to retry Kevorkian.
In requesting the mistrial, Voet said the jury may not be able to render a fair verdict after defense attorney Geoffrey Fieger, in his opening statement Wednesday, accused Voet of running a "witch hunt" against Kevorkian.
Kevorkian faced four felony counts for his involvement in the August 30 death of Loretta Peabody, including violating unwritten Michigan "common law" banning assisted suicide and practicing medicine without a license. Peabody, 54, suffered from multiple sclerosis.
Voet objected to placards that Fieger showed to the jury, to Fieger's assertion that there is no law against assisted suicide and to his assertions that Voet and other prosecutors were involved in a criminal conspiracy to harass Kevorkian.
"This is the most outrageous slinging of mud I've ever seen," Voet said. "It puts me in the position of having to be a witness. It is simply not fair, your honor, and it went on and on and on yesterday."
Fieger argued Thursday that there was nothing wrong with his statement and noted he did not object when jurors had to pass a gauntlet of demonstrators against Kevorkian.
"It's okay if we have people demonstrating, calling Kevorkian a killer in front of the jury," Fieger said, "but it's not okay for Mr. Fieger to come into court to tell the truth and say that he intends to prove that you changed evidence, that you engaged in a conspiracy that you've been harassing the family and this is a joke trial for your own political ends."
Peabody, an Ionia resident, was originally thought to have died of natural causes and her body was cremated. But prosecutors began investigating her death after she showed up in a videotape of a consultation with Kevorkian. In the tape she pleads for him to help end her suffering.
Peabody's death certificate originally stated she died of natural causes but it was later changed, even though there was no autopsy or examination by the local coroner.
Kevorkian, who has admitted attending 45 deaths since 1990, has been acquitted of assisted suicide charges in three previous trials, once in 1994 and twice in 1996.
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