Kevorkian's Fate in Jury's Hands
Mar. 25, 1999
PONTIAC, Mich. (AP) _ The jury at Jack Kevorkian's murder trial began deliberating Thursday after the suicide doctor compared himself to civil rights heroes Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks and all but asked the jurors to disregard a law he considers unjust.
``There are certain acts that by sheer common sense are not crimes,'' Kevorkian, acting as his own lawyer, said during closing arguments.
Prosecutor John Skrzynski said Kevorkian should not be allowed to ``make a political statement'' with the lethal injection he gave to Thomas Youk, a 52-year-old man with Lou Gehrig's disease. Youk's videotaped death aired on ``60 Minutes.''
``Is that any better than murder for hire? Is that any different than murdering somebody for money?'' the prosecutor asked.
The jury deliberated for about six hours before adjourning for the day. They were to return Friday morning.
Skrzynski attacked the notion of Kevorkian as a man of compassion, and said the doctor ``came like a medical hitman in the night with a bag of poison to do his job.''
The prosecutor also referred to the horrors of Nazi Germany to rebut Kevorkia's claim that euthanasia is acceptable, perhaps even noble.
``There are 11 million souls buried in Europe that can tell you that when you make euthanasia a state policy, some catastrophic things can evolve from that,'' Skrzynski said.
Kevorkian, 70, could get life in prison if convicted. He has been tried four times on assisted suicide charges, with three acquittals and one mistrial. This is the first time he has stood trial on murder charges.
By his own count, Kevorkian has taken part in more than 130 suicides since 1990.
Judge Jessica Cooper told the jurors they could consider convicting Kevorkian of second-degree murder or involuntary manslaughter.
She rejected the prosecution's request for an explicit warning to the jurors against ``jury nullification'' _ setting aside the law out of sympathy for the defendant. Instead, she simply told the jurors that they must follow the law and that mercy killing is not an excuse for murder.
The jury began deliberating shortly after noon, after Kevorkian rested his case without calling any witnesses. The judge barred him from calling Youk's widow and brother to the stand, ruling that testimony about Kevorkian's intent and Youk's consent are irrelevant in a murder case.
An hour into their deliberations, the jurors sent the judge a note asking to see the videotape and a legal dictionary. Cooper told them they could not have the dictionary and could not do their own legal research.
Earlier, in a closing statement peppered with the prosecutor's objections, Kevorkian reminded jurors of the actions of King and Mrs. Parks during the civil rights movement and noted that acts such as drinking beer or registering to vote were once illegal.
``Words on paper do not necessarily create crimes,'' he said.
He warned the jurors that if they convict him, they will face ``the harsh judgment of history, and the harsher judgment of your children and grandchildren if they ever come to need that precious choice.''
Kevorkian argued that his intent was not to kill Youk but to ease his suffering, and that he was doing what Youk wanted him to do.
He also apologized for any inconvenience caused by his inexperience in court: ``If I looked inept I was _ in law. But I'm articulate in English.''