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Kevorkian's Murder Conviction Stands

Courts: Appellate panel dismisses the assisted-suicide activist's claim of inept counsel at his 1999 Michigan trial.

November 22, 2001|From Reuters

DETROIT — Dr. Jack Kevorkian, the assisted-suicide activist sentenced in 1999 to 10 to 25 years in prison for the videotaped killing of a terminally ill Michigan man, has been denied an appeal of his murder conviction and request for a new trial.

The ruling, made public Wednesday by the Michigan Court of Appeals, dealt a major legal blow to Kevorkian, an icon of the right-to-die movement who has said he helped more than 130 people take their lives.

Kevorkian, 73, was convicted of second-degree murder for the injection death of Thomas Youk in 1998 after he gave a homemade videotape of the "mercy killing" to the CBS-TV program "60 Minutes."

In the tape, which was viewed in millions of American homes, Kevorkian dared prosecutors to convict him.

Before the Youk case, Kevorkian had been acquitted of euthanasia and murder charges in three trials. He said he made the tape for "60 Minutes" to force the legal system to deal with the reality of assisted suicide.

In his appeal, Kevorkian's lawyer said that a series of mistakes were made during his 1999 trial, including ineffective assistance from Kevorkian's attorneys during the trial.

But the three-judge appellate court panel noted that Kevorkian, a retired pathologist, had represented himself during the trial despite repeated reminders from the trial judge about the possible consequences.

"Defendant chose--almost certainly unwisely but nevertheless knowingly, intelligently, voluntarily and unequivocally--to represent himself," the court said in its ruling. "He cannot now assign the blame for his conviction to someone who did not act as his trial counsel."

Kevorkian said during his trial that Youk consented to being injected with a fatal cocktail of drugs. Youk, a 52-year-old Detroit-area man, suffered from a muscular affliction called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease. It had left him in a wheelchair and barely able to speak.

In previous cases, Kevorkian had arranged for his "patients" to inject the drugs themselves, sometimes through a homemade contraption he called a "suicide machine."

Kevorkian's attorney argued that the judge who sentenced him to prison had acted improperly in excluding emotional testimony and pleas for leniency from Youk's widow.

But the appellate court said the lawyer, Mayer Morganroth, "failed to demonstrate how the proposed testimony would have been relevant."

Morganroth, who criticized the court's ruling, told reporters he would appeal it in a state or federal court.

Morganroth noted that he was also still awaiting a federal appeals court ruling on a motion filed in February 2000 seeking bail for Kevorkian during his appeal.

At least one group applauded the court's unanimous decision on Kevorkian, who is ineligible for parole until May 26, 2007.

"Kevorkian is a serial killer of disabled people and should stay in prison for the full term of his sentence," said Carol Cleigh of Not Dead Yet, a disability rights organization opposed to physician-assisted suicide.

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