In the saga of The People vs. Jack Kevorkian, the stats tell the story of a man seemingly beyond the reach of the law: 28 assisted suicides, three acquittals, no convictions.
After the jury in Kevorkian's third trial acquitted him of two charges Tuesday, the nation's most outspoken advocate of the right to die indicated he will continue his unorthodox practice with new confidence."I now consider this a legitimate medical service," he said. "I've never been so convinced of being right in my life."
The 67-year-old retired pathologist, who had become so brazen he even took part in a suicide during the trial, now says nothing short of "being burned at the stake" would halt his campaign to provide fatal relief to patients suffering from unending pain.
But even after three high-profile failures, prosecutors said they won't back down from possibly trying Kevorkian again.
"Just because we lose one case, two cases, does not mean we will stop enforcing the law," Oakland County Prosecutor Richard Thompson said.
In this trial, prosecutors had their strongest case yet against Kevorkian. After he helped 43-year-old Sherry Miller and 58-year-old Marjorie Wantz take their lives in a rural cabin on Oct. 23, 1991, he called 911 and reported "a physician-assisted suicide."
Testimony revealed neither woman was terminally ill. The prosecution's medical experts testified that the women probably suffered from depression.
Kevorkian did not deny providing the carbon monoxide that Miller, a multiple sclerosis patient, breathed to end her life. He acknowledged providing the mix of drugs placed in an intravenous drip that ended the life of Wantz, who suffered from chronic gynecological pain.
But jurors said the prosecution failed to explain the common law under which Kevorkian was charged. They said Kevorkian convinced them his sole intent was to relieve the women's pain and suffering. They said they were moved by the heart-wrenching videos of the women, made shortly before their deaths, and by testimony from their relatives.
Jurors reached their verdict after 13 hours of deliberations over three days. Several jurors who spoke to reporters said they were impressed with Kevorkian and his sincerity.
"I got the impression of Dr. Kevorkian being a very smart and intelligent man who cared very much for his patients," said Vince Muscillo, a 20-year-old musician from Berkley.
In his previous two trials, Kevorkian was charged under a temporary law the Legislature targeted at him. But in the latest case, the charges were based on a 1994 Michigan Supreme Court ruling that said assisted suicide was a felony under the common law - the traditions and legal precedents dating to old England.
Defense attorney Geoffrey Fieger repeated his charge that prosecutors and judges on the state's highest courts had conspired to get Kevorkian by creating a new common law crime of assisted suicide.
"The only thing that protected us was the jury," Fieger said. "They understood there was no law."