On March 26, 1999, Suicide advocate Dr. Jack Kevorkian was convicted of second-degree murder for giving an ailing man a lethal injection and putting it all on a videotape that aired on "60 Minutes." It was the first time in five trials that he was found guilty. The jury took a day and a half to clear him of first-degree murder, which would have meant a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole.
But they rejected his claim in his closing argument that some acts "by sheer common sense are not crimes." Kevorkian, 70, still could get a life term at sentencing April 14 for the death of 52-year-old Thomas Youk, who suffered from Lou Gehrig's disease. Prosecutor David Gorcyca said he believes sentencing guidelines call for a minimum of 10 to 25 years on the murder charge. Kevorkian also was convicted of delivery of a controlled substance, which carries up to seven years.
On November 24, CBS aired a tape of the Youk assisted suicide in the program "60 Minutes." The show finished No. 3 in the weekly Nielsen ratings. Prosecutor David Gorcyca filed charges after receiving an unedited tape from CBS. Following the televised suicide, Dr. Death arrived smiling at the police station after being charged with first-degree murder. Kevorkian was released on $750,000 personal bond following his arraignment. "A review of the tapes involving Mr. Youk and Kevorkian present sufficient facts and probable cause to support charges of assisted suicide," Gorcyca said. "Not withstanding Mr. Youk's consent, consent is not a viable defense in taking the life of another, even under the most controlled environment."
Kevorkian, 70, has acknowledged a role in some 130 assisted suicides since 1990, making him the most active known serial killers in the nation. His previous trials, all on assisted suicide charges, resulted in three acquittals and one mistrial. This was the first time he stood trial for murder. In past cases, Kevorkian has said his clients used his homemade devices to start the flow of carbon monoxide or intravenous chemicals that caused their death. In Youk's case, however, Kevorkian administered the injection.
In closing arguments, prosecutor John Skrzynski likened Kevorkian to "a medical hitman in the night" and asked jurors not to let him make a political statement with Youk's death. Kevorkian said he was no more culpable than an executioner because he was merely doing his duty as a physician to relieve Youk's suffering. He compared himself to civil rights pioneers Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. and invited the jury to disregard the law. "Words on paper do not necessarily create crimes," he said. "There are certain acts that by sheer common sense are not crimes. This may be one of them. That's for you to decide."
Attorney David Gorosh, who had been serving as Kevorkian's legal adviser, said he will appeal. He also said he will ask the judge to use her discretion at sentencing and give Kevorkian no jail time. "Dr. Kevorkian is certainly no murderer," Gorosh said. "We believe it's certainly unjust to equate an act of compassion to an act of murder." Kevorkian won the right to represent himself during the trial despite the misgivings of the judge, who asked him: "Do you understand you could spend the rest of your life in prison?" He responded: "There's not much of it left."
On April 13 Judge Jessica Cooper sentenced Dr. Death to 10 to 25 years in prison for the videotaped death of a Lou Gehrig's disease patient. He also was sentenced to three to seven years for delivery of a controlled substance. The fiesty judge lectured the 70-year-old doctor: "This trial was not about the political or moral correctness of euthanasia. It was about lawlessness. It was about disrespect for a society that exists because of the strength of the legal system. No one, sir, is above the law. No one. You had the audacity to go on national television, show the world what you did and dare the legal system to stop you. Well, sir, consider yourself stopped."