KEVORKIAN: Convicted of Second-Degree Murder
After five arrests, "nine years and what he says are more than 130 suicides," Dr. Jack Kevorkian was convicted by a unanimous jury Friday of second-degree murder and delivery of a controlled substance, and now "faces the possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison." Upon agreeing to abide by the state's law prohibiting assisted suicide in the meantime, Kevorkian is free on a $750,000 bond until his sentencing April 14. "No assisted suicide. No injection. No anything," said Oakland County Circuit Judge Jessica Cooper. Assistant Prosecutor Dan Lemisch "said jurors told him they spent most of" their 12-hour "deliberations trying to decide between first- and second-degree murder" ( AP/Detroit News, 3/27). Juror Patrick Pollock said in arriving at its decision, the jury watched the "60 Minutes" video, which brought about the case, "a number of times" (Connor, New York Post, 3/28). University of Detroit law professor Larry Dubin said, "Convicting him means the jury believes he was guilty of one of the most serious crimes on the law books" (Robertson, Boston Globe, 3/27). Kevorkian, however, suggested that the verdict was irrational. He said, "Manslaughter, I could understand how they would arrive at that. But murder? This? They must have been an astonishingly cruel jury. I got what I wanted -- a conviction. Why? That proves how corrupt the society is, and how malevolent are those who run it. They don't care what the people want." But Oakland County Prosecutor David Gorcyca said, "Dr. Kevorkian has even begged and sometimes taunted me into prosecuting him. Today a jury of his peers granted him his ultimate wish."
Dr. Death Behind Bars?
Gorcyca "said he believes state guidelines call for a minimum of 10 to 25 years" in prison. Kevorkian attorney David Gorosh said he will ask for no jail time at the sentencing, and plans an appeal of the verdict as well. He said, "Dr. Kevorkian is certainly no murderer. We believe it's certainly unjust to equate an act of compassion to an act of murder. This is not a typical murder trial, and certainly Dr. Kevorkian is not guilty of any evil intent" (AP/Detroit News, 3/27). If sentenced to any prison time, state sentencing guidelines dictate that "he would have to serve at least two-thirds of it" (Belluck, New York Times, 3/27). Assistant Prosecutor John Skrzynski said "as a practical matter, he'll go to prison" (Connor, New York Post, 3/27).
Advocates of the right-to-die movement debated the impact that Kevorkian's conviction would have on the overall movement. Catherine Tucker of Compassion in Dying said, "I don't think he reflects the mainstream right-to-die movement. He was always seen as an outlandish, irresponsible individual. ... His contribution is providing the example of why we need reform because we do have back-alley practitioners and Kevorkian is most prominent." But Faye Girsh, leader of the Hemlock Society, which also supports assisted suicide, said, "He's a martyr. He's acted in a great American tradition of civil disobedience. We are all doing different things in the movement, trying to get the law changed. It has to change" (McClear/Trowbridge, Detroit News, 3/28). Society founder Derek Humphry added, "I think the right-to-die movement will get behind Kevorkian and push even harder for laws to legalize euthanasia" (Robertson, Globe, 3/28). Some, however, like Carol Poenisch, daughter of Merian Frederick, who Kevorkian helped die in 1991, were more discouraged. She said, "It's a setback for euthanasia. I really don't know how the public is going to interpret this. I hope it's not going to effect physician aid in dying" (Klayman, Reuters/Contra Costa Times, 3/27). Activists on the other side of the issue, however, were more unified in their reaction. Not Dead Yet founder Diane Coleman said, "We have finally gained a murder conviction of a serial killer of disabled people. I really hope that Jack Kevorkian's conviction has dealt a lethal blow to the steamroller of the euthanasia movement" (Vitez, Philadelphia Inquirer, 3/28). The American Medical Association said, "Patients in America can be relieved that the guilty verdict against Jack Kevorkian helps protect them from those who would take their lives prematurely" (New York Post, 3/27). Gorcyca said, "It was never my intent or desire to participate in the martyrdom of Dr. Kevorkian. Unfortunately, the issue of mercy killing and assisted suicide will remain a complicated moral and legal, medical and ethical issue upon which we may never unanimously agree, despite the guilty verdict" (Globe, 3/27).
- Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, archbishop of Philadelphia: the verdict reaffirmed "the sanctity of life. ... Killing someone in order to relieve pain should never be an option" (Inquirer, 3/28).
- George Annas, professor of health law at the Boston University School of Public Health: "It couldn't have happened to a nicer guy. ... The only larger import would have been if they'd found him innocent. Then he would have felt invincible" (Saltus/Kong, Boston Globe, 3/27).
- Family Research Council Legal Analyst Teresa Wagner: "America now knows that its homicide laws protect the weak, the sick and the disabled, as well as those who are strong and healthy" (release, 3/26).
- Former Kevorkian counsel Geoffrey Fieger: "He definitely did not accomplish his goal. What he did was bring about his own self-destruction" (New York Post, 3/27).
- Globe columnist Ellen Goodman: "I am no fan of Jack Kevorkian. ... Nevertheless, this was no garden variety murder. However deeply you look into them, the 'eyes of the law' are too narrow for justice" (3/28).
- New York Times editorial: "Dr. Kevorkian's reckless acts show why there need to be ways for terminally ill patients to seek aggressive palliative care" (3/27).
- Los Angeles Times editorial: "With his self-righteous insistence on making himself the focus of controversy, Kevorkian only obscured the issues that ethicists, physicians, the clergy and thoughtful laypersons continue to ponder. A right to die does not include the right to serve as someone else's executioner. Kevorkian never understood the distinction" (3/28).
- Detroit News' Pete Waldmeir, on Kevorkian's bail: "Since when is a killer not a potential threat? Particularly a defrocked pathologist who, by his own proud count, has helped snuff out the lives of 130 people over the last nine years?" (3/28).
An ABC News poll taken soon after the conviction found that most Americans disagreed with the verdict, a result that lines up with the public's narrow preference for allowing doctor-assisted suicide. In the survey, 55% said the jury should not have convicted, as opposed to 39% who said it was right to do so. Opinion on the verdict varied by political party, with about 60% of Democrats and independents opposing the verdict, and Republicans split about evenly. The poll of 518 adults was conducted March 26 by Chilton Research Services. Its margin of error is +/- 4.5% (ABC News release, 3/26).