Asks jur, ‘Look at me. Do you see a criminal?’

The man critics call “Dr. Death” was found guilty March 26 of second-degree murder by a Pontiac, Mich. jury.

Last Sept. 17, Jack Kevorkian injected a lethal concoction into Thomas Youk, 52, a man who had ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The whole sordid event was taped by Kevorkian and aired on the 60 Minutes television program in November. In an interview with the show’s anchor, Mike Wallace, Kevorkian dared prosecutors to charge him and threatened to starve himself to death if he was found guilty. On Nov. 25, Kevorkian was charged and over five days in late March, the jury selection, trial and deliberations took place.

Assistant Oakland County prosecutor John Skyrzynski said that Youk’s illness was not a defence. He told the jury that Kevorkian “came like a medical hitman in the night with a bag of poison to do his job.”

Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Jessica Cooper ruled that neither Kevorkian’s intent nor Youk’s family’s testimony about Youk’s pain and suffering were admissible, saying it was irrelevant to the case. Cooper also stressed that relieving suffering was not a legal defence to murder. Skyrzynski told jurors Kevorkian was seeking the right to kill and they could stop him.

Acting as his own lawyer in the courtroom, Kevorkian called no witnesses. In his closing summation, the prosecutor had to object constantly to Kevorkian’s giving testimony during the time he should have been making closing arguments. Some observers said Kevorkian was trying to force the judge into declaring a mistrial, which was the outcome of one of his earlier trials.

Kevorkian acknowledged that, “Thomas Youk’s death was a result of my action.” But he added that there was no proof that he intended to kill Youk.

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

Just before the jury began deliberations, the prosecution gave them an option other than first-degree murder; they included a charge of manslaughter. Legal experts saw the tactic as a hedging of bets. But after deliberating for 12 hours over two days, the jury found Kevorkian guilty of second-degree murder, an automatic option in Michigan for first-degree murder charges.

As The Interim went to print, Kevorkian was awaiting sentencing on April 14.

Kevorkian was also found guilty of delivering a controlled substance. Until sentencing, he is out on $750,000 bail and a promise not to participate in any more assisted suicides. The Detroit Free Press said one of Kevorkian’s lawyers suggested he is ready to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Kevorkian, who admits to helping 130 people kill themselves in the past nine years, has been tried four times before, on charges of assisting a suicide. The previous cases ended in either an acquittal or mistrial.

This time, Kevorkian was ignominious in defeat. He told the Oakland Pressof Pontiac that the conviction illustrates what he thinks is wrong with society. “I got what I wanted,” he said. “A conviction. Why? That proves how corrupt the society is, and how malevolent are those who run it.”

Some legal experts see this decision as reflecting a change in public opinion. Yale Kamisar, a University of Michigan law professor and doctor-assisted suicide opponent, told the Free Press that public opinion may be beginning to shift, noting how unusual convictions in such cases have been so far.

Just weeks before 60 Minutes showed the tape, Michigan rejected a referendum initiative which would have allowed doctor-assisted suicide in certain circumstances, by a margin of 71 to 29 per cent. Kevorkian actually opposed the measure, arguing it put too many restrictions on doctor-assisted suicide. Weeks after the 60 Minutes broadcast, polls showed support for euthanasia waning.

“Proponents of assisted suicide,” Kamisar said, “try to point out that there’s a huge gap between what they do and what Kevorkian does. Well, there’s not. One inevitably leads to another.”