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UCLA Police Ask Theft Charges on Riverside Cryonics Laboratory

February 25, 1988|LOUIS SAHAGUN | Times Staff Writer

RIVERSIDE — UCLA police on Wednesday asked Riverside County prosecutors to bring grand theft and possession of stolen property charges against a cryonics laboratory here allegedly in possession of more than $7,000 worth of equipment stolen from the UCLA Medical Center, a university spokesman said.

The investigators "are submitting crime reports to the district attorney's office seeking criminal filings for grand theft and receiving stolen property," said UCLA School of Medicine spokesman Rich Elbaum.

The allegation came one day after the Riverside County coroner's office classified as a "homicide" the death of 83-year-old Dora Kent at the same lab, the Alcor Life Extension Foundation, and turned over that finding to the district attorney.

A coroner's spokesman said medical examiners concluded that Kent's death was hastened by an injection of barbiturates. Following her death, her head was surgically removed at the Alcor lab and frozen in liquid nitrogen.

Alcor and other advocates of cryonics freeze heads in the expectation that they will be returned to life at an uncertain date in the future, and entire bodies will be cloned to go with them.

Riverside County Assistant Dist. Atty. J. Thompson Hanks said his office will investigate before deciding whether to bring charges.

"The possibility of charging a homicide exists," Hanks said. "In a month we will be in a position to make a definitive statement."

Meanwhile, in a telephone interview from his home in the Riverside suburb of Woodcrest, Saul Kent, son of the dead woman and an advocate of cryonics, vehemently denied that his mother was the victim of a homicide.

"I was there (at the Alcor lab) and I saw my mother die of natural causes before anything was done to her body," he said. He acknowledged that sedatives were administered, but only after his mother died, as part of an effort to "preserve her brain cells."

Jerry Leaf, an Alcor member and also a research associate in the division of thoracic surgery at UCLA, has been placed on "investigatory leave" pending results of the inquiry into the circumstances surrounding Dora Kent's death, Elbaum said. Leaf removed the woman's head after she died. Contacted at his home Wednesday, Leaf declined comment.

Meanwhile, Dr. Steve Harris, an Alcor member and internist at the UCLA Medical Center geriatrics department, said he has been reinstated at the university after spending weeks on "administrative leave."

Harris signed a death certificate listing Kent's cause of death as pneumonia and heart disease, although he was not present when she died on Dec. 12. That certificate was rejected by Riverside County health officials, who referred the case to the coroner's office for investigation.

"Currently, Harris is assigned to the research component of his fellowship training and is not involved in direct patient care," Elbaum said.

On Wednesday, the state Board of Medical Quality Assurance, which licenses physicians in California, said it will review the situation.

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