The Meaning of 'Murderer'
by Cal Montgomery

Not Dead Yet member Cal Montgomery ckmont@aol.com was in the Oakland County courtroom covering the Kevorkian trial. She lives in Chicago.

What did Jack Kevorkian's March 26 murder conviction mean? For prosecutor John Skrzynski, the verdict came down to this: Jack Kevorkian is bound by the same laws as anyone else in the state of Michigan. Skrzynski maintained from the beginning that the facts and the law were clear. He was attempting to prove that Kevorkian had had a premeditated, deliberated intent to kill--and carried it out.

The videotape provided to CBS showed Kevorkian discussing the killing with Thomas Youk, then returning a day later to inject Youk with what he claimed were Seconal, Anectine, and potassium chloride. Medical examiner Dr. L. J. Dragovic testified that all the evidence supported those claims. Any one of the three injections, Dragovic asserted, would have killed Youk within hours, but the potassium chloride, being the fastest-acting, actually stopped his heart. "He came,"Skrzynski told the jury, "like a medical hit man in the night with his bag of poison to do his job."

Kevorkian's legal case, on the other hand, hinged on intent: he conceded that his actions had resulted in the Youk's death, but denied that he had ever had the intent to kill. Rather, he insisted, he had provided a "medical service for a medical affliction." "The aim,"he said, "was a final solution for incurable agony."

A less explicit argument centered around jury nullification. Several times, Kevorkian suggested that if the jury believed that such medical services should be exempt from murder statutes, they should vote to acquit him. "There are some acts which common sense says are not crimes,"he argued.

His argument failed to convince at least some spectators: as he asked rhetorically whether jurors looking at him saw a criminal, Ebba Allerellie, whose daughter Karen Shoffstall died in Kevorkian's presence, began to nod "yes."

The jury nullification strategy has worked in the past. Rita Marker of the International Anti-Euthanasia Task Force notes that in three assisted-suicide acquittals "the evidence overwhelmingly pointed to his guilt,"and blames juror bias against people with disabilities for the verdicts. This time the jurors, who had repeatedly been asked by Judge Jessica Cooper whether they could follow a law they didn't agree with, kept their oath and enforced Michigan's law rather than the defendant's.

Although Kevorkian has been quoted in the Oakland (Mich.) Press as saying that, in light of the verdict, jurors must have been "astonishingly cruel,"Marker has another take: "The jury is to be congratulated for making certain that Jack Kevorkian has the label he deserve--murderer."

In the courtroom, Not Dead Yet members were present throughout the proceedings, following deputies' instructions to remain silent and give no indication of their political affiliation. Outside the courtroom, members wore T-shirts, sweatshirts, buttons, and hats with NDY logos and sported "Jail Jack"buttons.

At noon NDY members gathered in front of a statue of Justice chanting, distributing leaflets, and talking to media. They brought signs giving the names, diagnoses, and dates of death of Kevorkian's non-terminal victims, to counter claims by Kevorkian supporters that this is "an end-of-life issue."Slowly, the NDY perspective began to sink in, and reporters approached NDY members to comment on or debate the issues.

For NDY members, both those who were present and those who monitored the trial from home, the meaning of the verdict is "equal justice."When Skrzynski asked the jury whether what was going on was that society didn't see any value in "handicapped people,"he was asking the same question many NDY members ask. When he asked whether jurors would have accepted Kevorkian's argument had the deceased been a lovelorn 18-year-old girl, he was using one of NDY's central arguments: when the question of who receives suicide assistance and who receives suicide prevention is based on disability status, that's discrimination.

NDY founder and president Diane Coleman considers the presence and visibility of NDY activists throughout the trial an important factor in the outcome. "We know that a mock trial of the case resulted in a hung jury. We also know that public opinion polls of those who did not attend the trial last week are running slightly in favor of acquittal. This was the first time Not Dead Yet was present at a Kevorkian trial, and we were there every minute,"she said. "Draw your own conclusions."

Wesley J. Smith, author of "Forced Exit: The Slippery Slope From Assisted Suicide to Legalized Murder,"agrees. NDY's "silent witness,"he said, "condemned him as the murderer he is."


The Unheard Word of Thomas Youk

We watch as Prosecutor John Skrzynski replays a portion of the tape that had been given to "60 Minutes." On the tape, we see Kevorkian preparing to inject Thomas Youk. As he readies the injection, Youk says something. All we can make out is a long "a" sound.

Kevorkian does not appear to notice that Youk has said anything. He gives Youk the first injection that renders him unconscious.

"Too late now," Skrzynski says to the jury. "It's too late now.

"We don't know what he said and it's too late now because he's gone now, he's asleep and he's never getting up again.

"What did he say?" Skrzynski continues. "Did he say 'wait'? Did Dr. Kevorkian have a duty to stop and find out what he was saying?"

--"Kevorkian's Last Stand," Court TV, March 30.

What was Kevorkian's hurry? It's unlikely he understood what Youk was trying to say, since in a recent interview with the Oakland (Mich.) Press, he said he never understood a word Thomas Youk said.

"I'm devastated to have played for the world my husband's final breaths on the planet and the suggestion that he might have changed his mind," Youk's wife Melody told Court TV. "--just, because, that is a possibility at the end of anybody's life, that you may change your mind . . . "

--contributed by Steven Drake.
Drake is Senior Research Analyst for Not Dead Yet.


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