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Kevorkian, Facing Trial, Present at Suicide : Law: Action angers prosecutors, who consider bringing more charges against doctor. They may also seek to have him jailed.

September 11, 1993|JUDY PASTERNAK and TRACY SHRYER | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

REDFORD TOWNSHIP, Mich. — Hours after being ordered to stand trial for violating Michigan's assisted-suicide law, retired pathologist Jack Kevorkian was present late Thursday when a 73-year-old man suffering from bone cancer killed himself in this western suburb of Detroit.

Kevorkian's action angered prosecutors, who had previously expressed sympathy for him. Authorities were considering Friday whether to file additional charges against Kevorkian, who now has been on hand for the suicides of 18 people in severe pain.

They also were contemplating asking that Kevorkian be jailed; he had been free on the promise that he would pay $100,000 if he failed to appear for court dates.

The death of retired tool-and-die maker Donald O'Keefe came hours after 36th District Judge Willie G. Lipscomb Jr. called Kevorkian "very courageous" but nonetheless affirmed that the retired pathologist should be tried for helping Thomas Hyde, a 30-year-old with Lou Gehrig's disease, kill himself with carbon monoxide Aug. 4. A trial judge is expected to be assigned Sept. 24.

Even the Wayne County prosecutor who brought the charges in the Hyde case last month--after Kevorkian all but begged him to--said at the time that he believes assisted suicide should be legal under certain conditions. Prosecutor John O'Hair said that he would not seek jail time if Kevorkian were convicted. But he added that he expected Kevorkian to refrain from helping more suicides until issues surrounding the state law were resolved.

"That took a dramatic turn last night," said Assistant Prosecuting Atty. Timothy Kenny, who is handling the Kevorkian case.

Kenny said O'Hair is "very upset." O'Hair told Detroit radio station WWJ-AM that "my concern about Dr. Kevorkian's behavior is the open flaunting of the law that we as a society cannot tolerate."

Kevorkian's attorney said his client's freedom should not be revoked. "For what? For being kind and compassionate?" asked Geoffrey Fieger in an interview.

"What was going to be done for Mr. O'Keefe? Do you think he should have been told, 'Well, tough luck'?" To refuse O'Keefe, Fieger said, would have been "cowardly."

Fieger repeated Kevorkian's earlier contention that he would go on a hunger strike if jailed. " . . . He will not eat and Dr. Kevorkian will not survive long in prison, I can assure you," Fieger said at a news conference. "That is not a threat; it's simply the facts of life."

O'Keefe apparently died, like many others assisted by Kevorkian, by inhaling carbon monoxide through a mask, Fieger said. The attorney said he could not be specific about Kevorkian's role. Kevorkian himself has made no statement.

That reticence is in sharp contrast to Kevorkian's press conference after Hyde committed suicide. Kevorkian gave a detailed description of how he gave Hyde the supplies and fitted the mask over his head, allowing Hyde to begin the flow of deadly gas by removing a clip that opened a crimp in the tube.

This time, "the burden is on us," said Kenny, of the prosecutor's office. "We have to determine precisely what his role was and what it is that we can prove his role was." He said he plans to assemble the evidence from police and the Wayne County Medical Examiner on Monday.

Redford Township police received a 911 call at 10:16 p.m. Fieger said he received a call about four minutes later, but would not say from whom. Kevorkian greeted police when they arrived at the red brick bungalow the O'Keefes had called home since shortly after the end of World War II.

O'Keefe's wife, Eunice, was there. Fieger said the entire family was involved in O'Keefe's decision to end his life.

O'Keefe could not walk or sit up, Fieger said, and was being fed through a tube. He was, the lawyer said, "in horrific pain." At the press conference, Fieger displayed a card that he said was a thank-you note from O'Keefe.

Neighbors said they hadn't seen O'Keefe for several months, though he previously mowed his own lawn and had been in the habit of walking every day to his son's house nearby. They described O'Keefe as very thin and pale when they last glimpsed him. "He must have gone quite fast," said John Sielicki, an airline reservation clerk who lives across the street.

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