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Kevorkian Murder Conviction Upheld by Supreme Court

Monday, October 07, 2002 10:31 a.m. EDT
by James Vicini

Assisted suicide doctor Jack Kevorkian lost on Monday a U.S. Supreme Court appeal seeking to overturn his conviction for the videotaped murder of a terminally ill Michigan man.

Without comment, the justices rejected Kevorkian's appeal arguing the guilty verdict must be set aside because the right to be free from "unbearable and irremediable pain and suffering is deeply rooted" in U.S. history and the Constitution.

Kevorkian, 74, a retired pathologist, is serving a prison sentence of between 10 and 25 years for second-degree murder in the 1998 death of Thomas Youk.

Youk, a 52-year-old, Detroit-area man, suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's  disease, a severe and progressive disorder of the nervous system for which there is no cure. He was in a wheelchair, fed through a tube and forced to use a machine to help him breathe.

Youk, a former racecar driver, was shown on CBS' "60 Minutes" receiving a lethal dose of potassium chloride from Kevorkian, who argued during his trial that it was a "mercy killing."

"The only medical method for ending the interminable suffering of patients such as Thomas Youk is to provide them with an injection to permanently end their suffering, though such injection will hasten death," Kevorkian's lawyer, Mayer Morganroth, said in the appeal.


"Dr. Kevorkian's intent in providing such medication was to ease this unbearable suffering, not to cause death. It is simply unconstitutional to deem such conduct murder," Morganroth said.

The Supreme Court ruled in a landmark 1997 decision that there is no constitutional right to physician-assisted suicide.

Kevorkian has said he helped more than 130 people take their lives. Before the Youk case, Kevorkian had been acquitted of euthanasia and murder charges in three previous trials.

In the previous cases, Kevorkian arranged for his "patients" to inject the drugs themselves, sometimes through a home-built contraption he called a "suicide machine."

In the appeal, Morganroth also argued that Kevorkian, who insisted on representing himself during his 1999 trial, received ineffective assistance of counsel.

He said Kevorkian was entitled to receive effective advice and consultation from his lawyers as to how to conduct his own defense, in accord with the constitutional guarantee of effective assistance of counsel.

The appeal also accused the prosecutor of repeatedly referring to Kevorkian's refusal to testify in front of the jury, claiming it violated Kevorkian's constitutional right against self-incrimination.

As an alternative to overturning the guilty verdict and sending the case back for a new trial, Morganroth urged the Supreme Court to order that the charges against Kevorkian be dismissed entirely.

By rejecting Kevorkian's appeal, the justices let stand a Michigan Court of Appeals ruling last year that upheld his conviction. Kevorkian will become eligible for parole on May 26, 2007, his 79th birthday.

Copyright © 2002 Reuters Limited