More MS news articles for December 1999

Judge Grants Default, Agrees To Set Hearing On Damages

December 16, 1999

By Richard Benke The Associated Press

RIO RANCHO, N.M. -- A court ruled Thursday that a fugitive physician accused of murdering a woman by assisted suicide had defaulted on her family's wrongful death lawsuit, and the judge agreed to set a hearing on the amount of damages to be awarded.

Dr. Georges Reding, a 74-year-old associate of assisted suicide advocate Jack Kevorkian, has been missing since he failed to appear for his scheduled murder arraignment here in September. The Belgian-born Reding is believed to be in Europe, a prosecutor said Thursday. Reding is charged with first-degree murder in the August 1998 death of Donna Brennan, a 54-year-old multiple sclerosis patient who died of an overdose of the sedative pentobarbital.

State District Judge Kenneth Brown last month set aside an earlier default ruling in the civil case, saying he wanted to be sure adequate steps had been taken to notify Reding of the lawsuit.

On Thursday, Brown took another look at the question. Police, a private investigator and others testified that notice had been properly delivered to Reding's residence in Michigan and that hotel, airline and car rental receipts and an eyewitness had verified Reding was in Rio Rancho and at Ms. Brennan's home the day she died.

"The judge let the civil case go forward even though Dr. Reding is refusing to participate," Stevan Schoen, attorney for Ms. Brennan's relatives, said after the hearing.

The next hearing, still to be scheduled by Brown, will address the questions of how much money should be paid to the victim's family and which specific allegations besides wrongful death the family will make, Schoen said. The choices include medical malpractice, battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress, he said.

Meanwhile, the arrest warrant is still outstanding in the criminal case, District Attorney Mike Runnels said. Reding so far has managed to stay a step ahead of Interpol investigators overseas, Runnels said.

"We do know that Dr. Reding has been out of the country, and we have been able to determine to a limited extent some of the places he has been," Runnels said. "We can't now say with any certainty where he is. "We know he has been to Europe at least once (since fleeing), and he's probably still in Europe," the prosecutor said. "We have indications that he may have moved around or somebody may have moved around who may have been posing as him."

Asked if Reding was getting financial assistance, Runnels said the doctor didn't need it.

"This man has a lot of money," he said, adding the doctor's bank records in Michigan, accessed with a search warrant, had indicated Reding had "around three-quarters of a million dollars in liquid assets."