Latest Assisted Suicide Raises Questions In Kevorkian Trial
BRIAN S. AKRE
May. 09, 1996
PONTIAC, Mich. (AP) _ As Dr. Jack Kevorkian's third assisted-suicide trial nears its end, his activity outside the courtroom this week is raising more questions than the testimony inside.
Neither the defense nor prosecution would speculate about how Kevorkian's presence at another suicide on Monday _ hours after he took the stand in his own defense _ might affect the trial.
After a one-day break in testimony, the prosecution's rebuttal witnesses were to take the stand today. Since jurors went home Tuesday, the news that Kevorkian attended the death of Canadian right-to-die activist Austin Bastable in nearby Farmington Hills has dominated local headlines.
Richard Friedman, a University of Michigan law professor, said Wednesday that the news could upset a juror who feels Kevorkian ``shows no respect for the law.''
Though the judge has ordered jurors to avoid news reports about Kevorkian, they are ``going to hear about it one way or another,'' said lawyer Michael Modelski, a former Oakland County assistant prosecutor.
Modelski agreed that Kevorkian's defiant act could help the prosecution, but he also said it might reinforce the beliefs of jurors who like Kevorkian.
``They might say, `What a guy,' and look at him as being heroic,'' he said. ``It's an in-your-face kind of thing. ... He's a loose cannon.''
If any jurors indicate they have heard the news and that it might influence them, they probably will be removed. Circuit Judge David F. Breck has four alternate jurors available; if the jury falls below 12 members, a mistrial could result.
Susan M. Wolf, associate professor of law and medicine at the University of Minnesota's Center for Biomedical Ethics, said Kevorkian sees himself as above the law.
``Kevorkian clearly doesn't care what the state of the law is,'' she said, ``and doesn't want to wait for any orderly change in the law.''
Bastable's death was the 28th reported suicide Kevorkian has attended since 1990. The retired pathologist is on trial in the 1991 deaths of two women.
Kevorkian has taken part in two suicides at once, has left bodies in vehicles outside the coroner's office, and even assisted in a suicide the same day a judge ruled he must stand trial in an earlier death. But never before had he been present at a suicide while he was on trial.
Bastable, 53, who had multiple sclerosis, died in the presence of Kevorkian and four other doctors, police said.
The Right to Die Society of Canada said Kevorkian gave Bastable a mask and carbon monoxide canister that he used to kill himself.
``My death is a blow for freedom,'' Bastable said in a videotape released in Toronto, ``not just for myself but for all rational Canadians who may at some time in the future wish to decide for themselves how they may die.''
During three days of testimony that ended Tuesday, Kevorkian called the judicial system corrupt, portrayed himself as the victim of a conspiracy and compared his prosecution to those in Nazi courts.
Modelski said prosecutors should ask the judge to set high bail to prevent Kevorkian from taking part in any additional deaths during the trial. He is free without bail.
Kevorkian is on trial on charges of assisting in the suicides of Marjorie Wantz and Sherry Miller. Wantz, 58, had severe pelvic pain and died of a drug injection. Miller, 43, had multiple sclerosis and died by inhaling carbon monoxide.
Kevorkian has been acquitted twice of similar charges.