More MS news articles for March 1999

US news - Kevorkian Convicted

By Justin Hyde -- The Associated Press

P O N T I A C, Mich., March 26 - Dr. Jack Kevorkian, who told jurors that some acts "by sheer common sense are not crimes" but was described by the prosecutor as "a medical hitman in the night," was convicted of second-degree murder today in the injection death of a Lou Gehrig's patient that was shown on national television.

Kevorkian escaped a first-degree murder conviction in the death of 52-year-old Thomas Youk, which would have sent him to prison to life. Second-degree murder carries a sentence of up to life in prison. Kevorkian was also convicted of delivery of a controlled substance, which has a maximum penalty of seven years in prison.

Kevorkian showed no visible reaction as the verdict was read.

He had challenged prosecutors to charge him, and at one point threatened a hunger strike if convicted and jailed.

Oakland County Circuit Court jurors deliberated more than 12 hours after receiving the case shortly after noon Thursday. The trial opened Monday and took a break Wednesday.

Sentencing was set for April 14.

Acting Out of Compassion

Kevorkian told jurors in his opening statement that he acted out of compassion for Youk.

"To have a crime, you need a vicious will and a vicious act," he said. In closing arguments Thursday, Kevorkian acknowledged that "Thomas Youk's death was a result of my action." But he said there is no conclusive proof that he intended to kill Youk.

"Only I know what really happened," he said.

Kevorkian reminded jurors of the actions of civil rights pioneers Rosa Parks and the Rev. Martin Luther King, and said acts such as drinking beer or women registering to vote once were illegal.

"Words on paper do not necessarily create crimes ... There are certain acts that by sheer common sense are not crimes," he said. "This may be one of them. That's for you to decide."

"Just look at me," Kevorkian told jurors. "Honestly now, do you see a criminal? Do you see a murderer? ... If you do, then you must convict. "And then, take the harsh judgment of history, and the harsher judgment of your children and grandchildren if they ever come to need that precious choice."

Prosecutor, Kevorkian Close Case

Skrzynski in his rebuttal lashed out at Kevorkian and efforts to portray him as compassionate and caring.

"He came like a medical hitman in the night with a bag of poison to do his job," Skrzynski said.

Youk's illness is no defense, the prosecutor said.

"It would be hard for you to disregard Tom Youk's medical condition when you look at the videotapes back in the jury room ... but his medical condition is not what is at issue here," Skrzynski said. "The law does not look at the victim and say, 'Does the victim have a quality of life that's worth protecting?'

"The law protects everyone," he said. "The law applies to everyone." Kevorkian rested his defense Thursday morning without calling witnesses after the judge refused to let him call Youk's widow and brother to the stand. Prosecutors had argued that the testimony was irrelevant to the murder charge.

All of Kevorkian's previous felony trials were on assisted suicide charges, and his defense relied on evidence of pain and suffering by people who died with his help. This time, Cooper ruled such testimony was not relevant to a murder charge and could be presented only to defend against an assisted suicide charge.

Prosecutors then dropped the assisted suicide charge to keep out such pain-and-suffering evidence that they said could "distract" jurors. Kevorkian got legal help during the trial from David Gorosh, a 30-year-old former public defender, and Lisa Dwyer.

Defendant Acquitted Previously

Kevorkian had been charged with murder before. The first time stemmed from the 1990 death of an Oregon woman, the first person whose death he attended. The charge was dropped by a judge who ruled the state had no law banning assisted suicide.

A 1992 charge was dropped for the same reason.

Youk's wife, Melody, said on "60 Minutes" that she was grateful her husband's suffering could be ended.

"I don't consider it murder - I consider it humane," she said. "I consider it the way things should be."

"Tom was very private and also he believes it's a private issue - you should be able to do what makes sense to you."

His brother Terry said family members believed there were no other options. "If it weren't for Dr. Kevorkian, I don't know what we could have done," he said.

A poll taken shortly after the broadcast of the tape found public sentiment tilting slightly against Kevorkian. Last fall, Michigan voters rejected an initiative to legalize assisted suicide under certain circumstances. Kevorkian opposed the measure, saying it was too

Kevorkian's only prior conviction was in November, on misdemeanor charges related to a scuffle with police outside a hospital where he and an associate were dropping off a body.