More MS news articles for Jan 2002

'She executed him ...'

Zuidmulder sends Trautman to prison for assisted suicide

Monday, January 21, 2002
By Warren Bluhm

Jim VandeHey, surrounded by television cameras and microphones, was speaking quietly but firmly when a Brown County Sheriff's deputy called, "Let us through, please," from over his shoulder.

The murmur of private conversations ceased as deputies led Donna Trautman past the crowd and cameras in her motorized wheelchair, still quietly sobbing after learning she would be going to prison.

A moment later, the buzz returned to normal.

"It's horrible what she did," VandeHey said. "She's going to have to live with herself for the rest of her life, so she's in her own prison on top of what she's doing now."

Circuit Judge Donald Zuidmulder sentenced Trautman, 59, to two years in state prison followed by six years on extended supervision for assisted suicide. She was convicted in the death of Raymond Krerowicz, VandeHey's uncle, who was dying of cancer.

Both prosecutors and defense offered Zuidmulder recommendations that involved a period of probation with some time in the county jail, but Zuidmulder said that punishment would not fit the crime.

"She executed him, she didn't assist him," the judge said. "She put a pillow over his face and she sat on him."

Trautman said that Krerowicz asked her to help him die and she resisted until the early morning hours of April 22.

"I saw him pray for God to take him home," she said before Zuidmulder imposed the sentence. "Those haunting pleas to help him die will stay with me for the rest of my life."

The judge cited "a right to progress to death untouched and undisturbed" in his remarks to Trautman.

"No one, not a devoted husband, not a devoted wife, not the parent of a gravely ill child, can conclude they have the right to take that life," he said.

Zuidmulder said he also felt an obligation to send a message to other people confronted with dying loved ones who are in pain.

"Confronted with the same decision, they hold back because this is a life they love so much, they can't give that person up until someone more powerful than them summons that person," he said. "I don't want this community looking in to conclude from any sentence I impose that I am sanctioning or applauding or commending these actions, because I am not."

If Trautman violates any of the terms of her imprisonment, the prison time can be extended for up to the eight years that she is under the supervision of the Department of Corrections, Zuidmulder said.

District Attorney John Zakowski asked that the judge impose a four-year prison term but then suspend it for five years on probation, but he called Zuidmulder's sentence a "fine" one.

"You go down a slippery slope if you say certain behavior is all right," Zakowski said after the sentence. "The judge made some good points."

In asking for probation, defense attorney Michael Hanna said Trautman, who was providing 24-hour hospice care for Krerowicz, declined numerous requests for media interviews and did not act on behalf of some philosophical or political cause, or for financial gain.

"This was a very personal act motivated by a desire to end the pain of Raymond, a person for whom she cared deeply," Hanna said.

Krerowicz's sister, Lorraine Curtis, said Trautman betrayed the family by taking matters into her own hands and because they had asked to be by his side when he died.

She said she agreed with Zuidmulder's concern about sending a message to others.

"If she goes scot-free, how many others are going to do this to their loved ones?" Curtis said.

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