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Kevorkian faces fourth assisted-suicide trial

June 10, 1997

IONIA, Mich. (AP) _ No body, no autopsy, a disputed cause of death.

Against a backdrop of a small, conservative Michigan town, Dr. Jack Kevorkian faces his first assisted-suicide trial outside the Detroit area, and his third such trial overall. He has been acquitted each time.

Jury selection was to begin today.

Kevorkian is accused of assisting in the suicide of Loretta Peabody, a 54-year-old woman with multiple sclerosis.

Mrs. Peabody died Aug. 30 at her Ionia home. Her death was ruled natural, and the body was cremated without an autopsy. But a week later, police 100 miles away in Oakland County seized from a motel room a videotape showing Kevorkian consulting with four people, including Mrs. Peabody.

The video shows Mrs. Peabody being asked to mark the consent form that people usually read before they die with Kevorkian’s help. ``I can’t go to the bathroom. I can’t get in my refrigerator,″ she said on the tape. ``I don’t want to do this anymore. I can’t do this anymore.″

Prosecutors maintain Mrs. Peabody died from an injection of potassium chloride, which stops the heart.

``Nobody can tell you what substance was injected,″ said Michael Schwartz, an attorney for Kevorkian. Prosecutors ``still can’t prove the cause of death. He doesn’t know anything more than when the original certificate was signed.″

The 69-year-old doctor has acknowledged being present at 45 deaths since 1990 but has kept silent about Mrs. Peabody. His lawyers have said only that the videotape is simply a recorded interview.

Kevorkian is being tried under a 1994 Michigan Supreme Court ruling that said assisting a suicide is a common-law crime punishable by up to five years in prison.

At his previous trial, held last year in Oakland County, Kevorkian never denied helping two women die; he had even called 911. But the jury cleared him anyway, partly because of confusion over the state high court ruling.

This trial is much different in setting than the first three.

In Ionia County, population 55,000, high-school sports are on the radio, there are no parking meters and there’s no Wal-Mart. Two-lane roads twist and rise past apple orchards, water towers and five state prisons. The voters haven’t elected a Democrat to a county job since 1932.

Kevorkian’s attorneys claim the county is ideal for their cause. They say folks around here don’t want to be told how they can die.

``There are people who are very anti-tax, very anti-big-government, very much protective of their own personal rights,″ prosecutor Ray Voet said.

But he added: ``They’re also very law-and-order, too. They expect their police and prosecutor to make sure the people who commit crimes are brought to justice.″

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