Saturday, June 2, 2007

Kevorkian: 'It's wonderful'

'Dr. Death' tastes freedom again

COLDWATER -- Nearly nine years after Jack Kevorkian last challenged medical convention, taunted legal authorities and sought to rewrite the rules on assisted suicide, he left prison quietly Friday.

Looking no more gaunt than in the 1990s when he gained international fame as "Dr. Death," Kevorkian climbed into a van, along with his lawyer, Mayer Morganroth; CBS News correspondent Mike Wallace; and three supporters and quickly left the Lakeland Correctional Facility to begin two years of supervised release. It was a low-key start for a man whose theatrics and sharp rhetoric once directed attention to the nation's death-rights movement.

Now 79 and stricken with an array of health problems himself, Kevorkian said nothing Friday about his conviction for second-degree murder in the intentional killing of a terminally ill Waterford Township man, nor of his plans for the future.

Kevorkian did not meet with reporters before quickly exiting in a van. He did, however, speak briefly with pool reporters inside the prison.

"It's wonderful. It's one of the high points of life," Kevorkian said in a quiet voice. He also touched his heart and drew an exaggerated smile on his face.

Kevorkian met with Morganroth before his release as a horde of reporters from local and national media outlets lingered outside the prison for hours. His release drew no protesters or supporters, just a handful of gawkers who stood across the road from prison grounds.

Kevorkian is scheduled to appear on CBS' "60 Minutes" on Sunday evening and CNN's "Larry King Live" on Monday. Kevorkian spoke with Wallace on Friday in a Battle Creek hotel, and reiterated his promise not to assist in any more suicides, nor advise anyone how to do it.

"It would be painful for me but I would have to refuse them," he told Wallace when asked what he would do if visited by a suicide seeker in terrible pain. "Because I gave my word that I wouldn't do it again. And I won't."

He can't talk specifically about assisted suicide or euthanasia, either. "I won't discuss it like they stipulate. I won'tI gave my word," he tells Wallace.

Morganroth had taken a suit for Kevorkian, but he chose to leave prison in his customary blue cardigan sweater.

As usual, Kevorkian's release drew protests from those who opposed the 130 deaths he claimed to have assisted and was welcomed by those who viewed his actions as merciful and moral.

"For 10 years, Jack Kevorkian's actions resembled those of a pathological serial killer," the Archdiocese of Detroit said in a statement. "It will be truly regrettable if he's now treated as a celebrity parolee instead of the convicted murderer he is."

"I'm very glad he's being released," said Derek Humphry, the founder of the Hemlock Society, an organization, since renamed, that supports death rights. "I think he was rightly convicted according to law. But morally I think it was a bad conviction."

Kevorkian has been in prison since his 1999 conviction in the death a year earlier of Thomas Youk, who was suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease, an incurable disorder that left Youk unable to kill himself. Unlike the other deaths Kevorkian aided, in the Youk case Kevorkian actively administered lethal chemicals in a procedure he videotaped; it was broadcast on "60 Minutes."

After years of acquittals in other deaths, Kevorkian sought to use the Youk case to draw new lines for physician-assisted suicide. He defended himself on the murder charges and was sentenced to 10-25 years in prison after his conviction.

In the years since, Kevorkian's appeals failed and requests to commute his sentence went nowhere. Last year, the state's parole board granted him an early release. As a condition of parole, Kevorkian is barred from assisting suicides, though he may express his views on the subject.

Morganroth estimates Kevorkian could command up to $100,000 in speaker fees. State officials have said they could take at least some of the money to help recoup housing and medical costs of his eight years behind bars.

No comments: