Charges against Kevorkian dismissed

The Associated Press

PONTIAC, Mich. A judge dismissed murder charges yesterday against Dr. Jack Kevorkian in the 1991 deaths of two women, then ordered him tried for assisted suicide.

Circuit Judge David F. Breck ruled that Kevorkian could not be tried for murder because there was no evidence he committed a direct act that caused the deaths of Marjorie Wantz and Sherry Miller.

But the judge said there was ample evidence that Kevorkian assisted in their suicides by buying the supplies and setting up the apparatus that killed them.

Assistant Prosecutor Gregory Townsend said he thought Breck's ruling was wrong but that charges against Kevorkian would be refiled, probably by tomorrow.

''The law is quite clear ... If one actively participates in the death, then they're liable for murder. But at least the judge has indicated we'll be proceeding to trial on assisted suicide charges,'' Townsend said.

In 1992, Breck dismissed murder charges in the case and ruled that there was no law in Michigan against assisted suicide. A state appellate court reinstated the murder charges and threw out a ban on assisted suicide the Legislature enacted after the women's deaths.

In December, the state Supreme Court upheld the law against assisted suicide which by then had expired. The state's highest court went a step farther and said that assisted suicide could be prosecuted under the body of legal customs known as common law.

Over the past five years, the 67-year-old Kevorkian, an advocate for physician-assisted suicide for the terminally ill, has been present at 25 suicides that were reported to authorities. His lawyer has suggested he may have been present at others.

The bodies of Wantz and Miller were found together in a remote cabin on Oct. 23, 1991. Miller, who was 43, had multiple sclerosis; Wantz was 58 and had severe pelvic pain.

In his ruling, Breck noted that Kevorkian had counseled both women to seek alternative relief from their pain. The judge also said there was no testimony that Kevorkian started the device that injected lethal drugs into Miller or opened the canister from which Wantz inhaled carbon monoxide.

Kevorkian attorney Geoffrey Fieger had argued that the state Supreme Court ruling making assisted suicide a crime under common law was too vague.

''It will be virtually impossible for Dr. Kevorkian to defend himself because we'll essentially be making up the elements of this crime,'' Fieger told the judge. Kevorkian was not present.

Speaking to reporters afterward, Fieger said he does not believe the state can successfully prosecute assisted suicide charges. He also urged prosecutors to drop the case.

Read Next Article