Kevorkian charged with murder Euthanasia videotape was shown Sunday on national TV


A Michigan prosecutor brought first-degree murder charges against Dr. Jack Kevorkian yesterday for administering a lethal injection last September to a terminally ill man who wished to die, a videotaped act of euthanasia that was nationally televised Sunday.

David Gorcyca, the prosecutor for Oakland County, said Kevorkian's actions clearly fit the definition of premeditated murder and that the consent of the dying man, who had Lou Gehrig's disease, is no legal defense.

Kevorkian claims to have presided over more than 120 suicides, but this case was the first in which he took a direct role in causing a death. If convicted, he could face life in prison.

Kevorkian surrendered to the police yesterday afternoon in Waterford Township, a suburb of Detroit, and was released on a $750,000 personal bond on condition that he not participate in any assisted suicides. A preliminary hearing was scheduled for Dec. 9.

Prosecutors wanted the 70-year-old retired pathologist jailed without bail, as most people charged with first-degree murder are.

Kevorkian had virtually dared legal authorities to charge him or implicitly acknowledge that people have the right to end their lives.

"They must charge me, because if they do not, that means they do not think it was a crime," Kevorkian said when the videotape of the death of Thomas Youk, 52, was shown on "60 Minutes," a CBS News show that was viewed in more than 15 million households.

People on both sides of the debate over assisted suicide and euthanasia applauded the filing of formal charges. Both sides called for a showdown on an issue that hinges on philosophies of life and liberty.

Legal experts said prosecutors might be at a disadvantage because a jury might find it easy to sympathize with the sufferings of the terminally ill.

Faye Girsh, executive director of the Hemlock Society, which advocates the right of people to end their lives, said the Michigan prosecutor's decision to file charges is legally appropriate.

"This was what Jack Kevorkian wanted," said Girsh. "He chose to do this to make a point to the American public."

Noting that three juries have acquitted Kevorkian in earlier cases of assisted suicide, Girsh said it is "questionable whether a jury of 12 citizens" will convict him.

Wesley Smith, a lawyer for the International Anti-Euthanasia Task Force who is a critic of Kevorkian, said of the charges filed against Kevorkian, "It's about time."

"Unless the rule of law means nothing in this country, Jack Kevorkian belongs in jail," Smith said.

The American Medical Association issued a statement Tuesday that condemned Kevorkian as "a self-admitted zealot killing another human being to advance his own interests and ego-driven urge to martyrdom."

A Michigan law that took effect Sept. 1 forbids assisted suicide. A statewide vote on a measure that would have legalized assisted suicide under certain circumstances was defeated Nov. 3 by a margin of 71 percent to 29 percent.

Kevorkian, whose license to practice medicine has been revoked in Michigan and California, was tried and acquitted three times on charges related to the deaths of five people in Michigan from 1994 to 1996. A fourth case ended in a mistrial.

On "60 Minutes," Kevorkian said that if he was sent to prison, he would starve himself.

In an interview with the Oakland Press of Michigan, Kevorkian said he wanted to be charged.

"I want to be prosecuted for euthanasia," he told the newspaper. "I am going to prove that this is not a crime, ever, regardless of what words are written on paper."

He said he was "tired of all the hypocrisy" and added, "We're going to end this, one way or another."

Kevorkian gave the videotape of the death to CBS, which turned it over to prosecutors. Mike Wallace, a reporter on "60 Minutes," said the tape was handed over because "it belonged to Dr. Kevorkian" and Kevorkian wanted that done.

On the tape, Kevorkian is shown presenting a consent form to Youk, who signs it.

Two nights later, on Sept. 17, Kevorkian is shown injecting Youk with drugs to make him sleep, then stop breathing, then stop his heart.

Asked during the broadcast whether he has killed Youk, Kevorkian replies, "I did."

Pub Date: 11/26/98

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