Arizona vs. Egbert and Langsner
In April 2010 the state of Arizona brought suit against Dr. Larry Egbert and Frank Langsner for providing "assistance" to Jana Van Voorhis, a Phoenix woman who died after having received information and support from the Final Exit Network. Faye Girsh (long active in the Right to Die movement, and currently President of the San Diego Hemlock Society and on the board of ERGO, among many other positions; a biography is here ) provided daily summaries of the proceedings on the ERGO news list , which are collected here. A few other documents from the mailing list, summarizing the outcome of the suit but not submitted by Faye, are included also at the end. Special thanks to Derek Humphry and Faye Girsh for permission to reproduce these documents here. See FinalExit.org for more information about the Right to Die movement.
Monday 4 April 2011
Jury selection begins this morning in the historical case of Arizona vs Dr. Larry Egbert (who was the Medical Director for the Final Exit Network) and Frank Langsner (who was an Exit Guide in the case of a woman who died here.) Don Samuels, a very capable criminal defense lawyer from Atlanta, is defending Larry and Antonio Bustamante is Frank's lawyer. The Network is providing the legal costs for these volunteers who provided information and support, in direct and indirect ways, for the woman who died. The case is important since it will help to define "assistance". I will write more as we progress here in beautiful, warm, downtown Phoenix.
Tuesday 5 April 2011
Jury selection was completed Monday and the case starts today with opening statements. There were some remarkable people in the jury pool: one woman who wrote in her jury questionnaire, "as Americans, aren't we given the liberty and freedom to make our own choices" If I was terminally ill, I would likely end my own life on my own terms." And, in answer to the item, "describe your feelings about a person helping another person commit suicide" she wrote, "special place in HEAVEN for them. Answering the call of need"remarkable people end human suffering" (her highlighting.) Of course she was disqualified but not before she got to influence the other jurors about her point of view, we hope.
The pool of jurors did not seem to represent the strong minority population of Phoenix. The one African American juror remaining for voir dire very eloquently brought up jury nullification. He said that the injustices he's seen make him believe that there are unjust laws that should not be obeyed. Of course, he didn't survive either. Nor did the staunchly Catholic woman who thought suicide was a sin.
After a long day we have 11 people who survived. It is actually an eight person jury with three alternates; everyone sits through the trial then lots are drawn to determine the actual 8 who deliberate. The jurors are white or Hispanic (no names are given to jurors, only numbers). There are 7 women and 4 men whose average age is 46 with a range from 34 to 68. The judge, Paul McMurdie, is about 50, pleasant and flexible. The two prosecutors, a sincere young man who liberally explored many aspects of the case in his voir dire. Jurors were encouraged to air their feelings on suicide, conspiracy, whether the state should be involved at all, and if this trial was a waste of time (to which about 5 of the prospective jurors concurred.) After an hour of that questioning it was easier to know what jurors had strong feelings pro and con. He has another DA working with him, a woman, who seems OK (i.e., she's not Nancy Grace.)
I wondered what the jurors thought when they saw the scene in the small courtroom. There were ten people on our side of the aisle: Larry Egbert and his wife Ellen, Frank Langsner and his wife Elaine, his lawyer, Larry's lawyer and his colleague Kristen Wright, a young, very sharp attorney, as well as Rob Rivas who came in from Florida, the local lawyer David Klephart, and me. Those of us not directly involved in the case will sit in the courtroom as the trial starts but, since the jury filled the seats on Monday, we were all arrayed around the counsel table.
Larry and Frank are charged with Manslaughter (assisting a suicide is considered manslaughter) and conspiracy to Commit Manslaughter stemming from the suicide of Jan Van Voorhis in 2007. Frank, as an Exit Guide, was with her when she died; Larry was the Network's Medical Director and allegedly conspired with others to aid her in her suicide. They have pled Not Guilty although two other volunteers who were arrested at the same time pled Guilty earlier and will testify for the prosecution.
BTW, Phoenix really is a beautiful city -- new, imaginative modern buildings, lots of pedestrian space, excellent landscaping, and innovative public art. Impressve major hotels, some expensive condos, but basically no one lives down there despite a magnificent symphony hall, convention center, 22 movie cinema complex and excellent light rail. A puzzle.
Today the case started. The routine is that we start at 10:30, go to noon, break for lunch till 1:30 and stop at 4:30 so a whole day is only 4 ½ hours in the courtroom, some of which is taken up by attorneys talking to the judge about motions, etc When that happens the rest of us get a white noise so we can’t hear -- though some of us would prefer to be hearing Chopin or Johnny Cash. The good news is that court will be in session Fridays when we had thought it would be dark on Fridays. Still it seems to be a rather laborious procedure.
Opening statements were made this morning, starting with Sherry Lecrone, one of the District Attorneys. She described what happened to the "victim", Jana (pronounced Jane-ah) Van Voorhis, 58, as allegedly perpetrated by the conspiracy between Larry Egbert and Frank Langsner. Though factually somewhat accurate the sinister spin she put on it made it sound like this poor woman had been unwillingly visited by Murder Inc. She said the doctor (Egbert) gave the order to "authorize death" then his associates (Frank and a senior guide about whom we will hear later) went to her home, "under the cover of darkness", without telling family or friends, to make sure death occurred. The word "killing" came up often. She told the jury that a guilty verdict would send a message to the defendants that "you may not like our law but it protects people, their families and even you – people who enter a home, help kill people, and cover it up."
Don Samuel, Larry’s attorney, gave a completely different view to the jurors. Pointing out that it was an honor to represent Dr. Egbert, age 82, a distinguished scholar and professor at Johns Hopkins University -- where he is an anesthesiologist and teaches medical ethics -- and a great humanitarian who has helped downtrodden people in Iran, Lebanon, and Central America and is a member of Doctors Without Borders. He had also been a board member and volunteer Medical Director of the Final Exit Network, a group with 3000 members who believe people have the right to determine the time and manner of how they end their lives and to make that ending compassionate, dignified and peaceful. They do not have to choose guns, jump off bridges or die violently or alone. The Network, he said, never encourages dying but always offers alternatives. "This choice about ending life is part of being a human being." (Don himself has 9 children, four of whom were Ethiopian AIDS orphans and one from Bulgaria plus 4 of his own.) He pointed out that conspiracy did not happen since Larry’s approval of a case did not necessarily result in a hastened death nor did Larry ever speak directly to Frank or Jana.
Since these are two cases being tried by two lawyers, to one jury, using the same evidence, with different charges, and possibly different verdicts there was also an opening statement by Antonio Bustamante, Frank’s lawyer. He related Frank’s achievements, which include earning a PhD, teaching at three different colleges, writing on physical education, serving in the Navy in the Pacific in WWII, and now at 86 volunteering to be an Exit Guide which required "the highest in human nature" though no actual helping. He pointed out that Jana wanted no one to know that she ended her own life and requested his services through the Network. "Nothing will show that he conspired to take a life or aided anyone in taking theirs."
During the lunch break most of our team ate together, now including Rob Rivas, the Network’s legal coordinator and his fiancée, Julia Hamway, plus friends of the Langsners and Ted Goodwin who was president of the Network in 2007 and was arrested in Georgia in 2009. No trial date has been set in the Georgia case.
At 1:30 the presentation of the evidence began with the State calling witnesses. First up was Jana’s sister, Vicki, who stated that she had gotten a call on April 13 (this is 2007!) from someone saying she was in Jana’s church group and that she hadn’t come and was worried. Later it was determined that the call came from a Network person. Though Vicki did not get an answer when she called her sister she did not go to her home, which was 3 miles away, till four days later when she found her dead. The pictures looked like she was asleep in her bed; her attractive house was spotless and in no disarray. There was a post-it note on the door to the two Exit Guides asking them to wipe their shoes with the paper towels she had left and a letter on the table to her neighbor which, it turned out, was supposed to have been mailed by Frank so that her neighbor would find her body. Her testimony was clear and straightforward but drawn out because the DA was not ready with her exhibits and there were many conferences with the judge on what was admissible. On the cross-examination by Tony Bustamante it did slip in that Jana left her entire estate to her pastor though this will not be explored.
The state’s second witness was the police officer who came to Jana’s home in response to a 9-1-1 call by Vicki. He confirmed that she had probably been dead for a few days.
By that time it was 4:30. The afternoon had been a yawner since it was repetitive and slow seeming to deal with facts that were not in dispute.
Afterwards Rob, Julia, Ted and I went to the top of small butte in this otherwise flat country to see a beautiful sunset in a red-streaked sky. It felt important to celebrate life and the possibility that, with this case, we are getting closer to providing a peaceful (and more transparent) death for those who need our services.
Wednesday 6 April 2011
Today it seemed like not much got done but the behind-the-scenes activity was important. For the spectators the working hours were good but our lawyers -- who are terrific -- obviously spend a lot of time of this case outside of the courtroom. At 10:30 we convened; the lawyers discussed issues with the judge and the jury entered 15 minutes later.
The third witness for the State was Detective Lois Weiss, a young and friendly-looking, pregnant woman, who is a savvy 17 year veteran of the Phoenix Police Department and of Homicide investigation for 6 years. Three months after Jana’s death her department was called, apparently prompted by repeated calls from her Jana’s sister. Her testimony occurred both in the morning and after lunch.
To summarize: Weiss testified that she had tracked down Frank from his voice message to Jana and, from other evidence collected by the detective and by the family (which included a receipt for two helium tanks and a check for membership in the Network.) Those pieces of evidence led her to understand that Frank and Wye Hale-Rowe had been present and that the Network was involved. She brought five other officials with her to search the Langsner house and found the book Final Exit (though she said it was called "Final Exit Network") and spoke at length to Frank who innocently and helpfully gave her a great deal of information.
A few days later she went to Aurora Colorado to search Wye’s home, again with a team. The materials she found have to be catalogued and agreed on by all sides so will be shown tomorrow. They searched Jana’s home again and had to get the key from the bank. Jana’s sister never had the key and, after her death, apparently the house belonged to the heir to her estate which was her pastor (though this has not been disclosed at this point.) Weiss said her department was contacted by Detective Posey of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation in the summer of 2008 which apparently launched this case. He will be on the stand tomorrow.
State’s witness #4 was Jana’s next door neighbor, a woman who came with a walker and spoke in a quavering voice. She testified that she had a key and let Vicki and her husband in and found out that Jana had died. It was short testimony with no cross examination.
At 11:45 lights began to flash and announcements came over the loud speaker that there was an emergency alert in the 7 story courthouse and everyone had to leave, but not by elevator. So we all poured out and went down the stairs with all the jurors. Exciting! Despite our instant suspicion that a bomb was planted by our adversaries, it turned out to be a minor fire. All was well when we returned from lunch which was not till 2PM.
On our return there was an important discussion with the judge, without the jury present. It was about the statement that Detective Weiss had elicited from Frank. Because Larry was mentioned and the charges involve conspiracy, the debate centered on whether Frank’s statement could be used. Ultimately the judge agreed with Don Samuel who brilliantly argued that it would violate the Bruton decision and was inadmissible.
There were no other witnesses called today; the jury was dismissed by 3:20. In private conferences the State had requested that a description of Jana’s condition be put into evidence. The judge ruled that was irrelevant since the question the jurors had to decide was if assistance in suicide had occurred, regardless of the reason.
The State anticipates calling six more witnesses and the judge thought we should hear from 4 a day. Hopefully that means that the procedure will not take as long as it has to this point. Tomorrow, though, the trial will not resume until 1:30. Meanwhile a little rain fell on Phoenix and the temperature went down.
Miscellany: There has been a camera rolling inconspicuously the whole time which I was told was Nightline. The Arizona Republic, the main paper here, has been silent though a weekly alternative paper had an inflammatory report. Other Network supporters have come to the trial including a woman who has been a friend of Jana’s since college and wanted to sit on our side of the aisle since she thinks what the Network did was a wonderful thing and is totally supportive.
Thursday 7 April 2011
Each day seems to get increasingly unproductive and today was the worst yet. For some reason the state has not prepared their witnesses or their exhibits so there are big gaps in time when there is no testimony or the materials are unnecessarily authenticated and organized.
We didn’t convene till 1:30 (nice for us, we went to Taliesen West).
Ten minutes later the jurors came in and the state called its 5th witness, Agent Mitchell Posey, who had flown in from the metropolis of Cleveland Georgia (which is why we had no court this morning). He was in charge of investigating the Georgia case against the Final Exit Network and had done an extremely thorough job in 2009-2011 sending the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to the homes of Network volunteers all over the country and confiscating their files and computers.
A lot of information about members’ records, finances, training manuals, newsletters, travel vouchers, etc. had been accumulated with the intention of also using it in this trial in Arizona. Boxes of it had been copied and sent to Phoenix; Posey’s job was to authenticate that these were real copies of the accumulated documents. So he did and swaggered out at 3:16 at which time court was adjourned, after a 20 minute afternoon recess – Posey probably thinking that he’d be the next Attorney General of Georgia after cracking this giant case. Taxpayers of the world unite! This is an outrageous waste of the judge’s, the jury’s, the lawyers’ and the defendants’ time –and the spectators of course.
The scope of this case and the intrusiveness of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation were highlighted by Posey’s testimony. He talked about sending agents (always more than one) to the homes of Wye Hale-Rowe in Colorado, Bernie Klien in Michigan, Roberta Massey in New Jersey, Dalton Baker in St. Louis, and Larry Egbert in Baltimore – all of whom had a role in the Network. (I remember Dalton telling me that they battered his door down since he wasn’t home when they came.) At several locations they found the Network Training Manuals and at Larry’s office they found a list of applicants for Network services. All Posey did was say that these were accurate copies. There was no argument, no drama, no Perry Mason. A big yawn.
Oh yes, there was brief testimony from Witness #6, a man who works for Party City of Paradise Valley. He affirmed from the 2007 receipt that the deceased purchased two Party Balloon Kits (i.e., helium.)
Some of us who went to dinner joked that it would be a unanimous hung jury, that is, they would all hang themselves from sheer boredom. Just a joke folks but really it is hard to understand how the state can drag the case out and waste so many people’s time. We do have a witness tomorrow from the Network and two more next week. Hopefully that will shed more light on this than the jurors already learned in opening statement four days ago. And the judge promised to provide a definition of "aid" next week since the case hinges of what that word means.
Friday, 8 April 2011
Well, friends, today was short (convene at 10:30, lunch 12-1:30, adjourn at 2:20) but interesting. The State's 7th witness was Harry Lien, an older, serious, lean man from Green Valley (near Tucson) who serves as a First Responder for the Final Exit Network for the Southwestern states. For 33 years he was a 4th grade teacher and you can believe that year must have been a tough, demanding but enlightening one for his students. Harry had been a Hemlock member then joined the Network when it was formed. For 11 years he has been a hospice volunteer where he "takes the trash out" which, it turns out, means that he does everything for patients that the MDs and RNs don't do, ie, take them for walks, bathe them, talk to them, feed them and provide respite care for a few hours to relieve the caregivers.
For more than two hours he answered precisely and thoughtfully and did not suffer fools when asked to speculate, answer a vague question, or repeat an answer. He had conducted the phone interview with Jana (the "victim") in 2007 when she was a perspective applicant for services. He followed the interview form to the letter and her responses were shown in court. Jana listed numerous diseases she had and medications she took. She listed her brother in Seattle as her Health Care Agent and her cousin as an alternate (not listing her sister who sits in the courtroom all the time and apparently pressures the DA to do more with the case indicates that they did not get along, though the sister displayed "grief" when talking about discovering her body. Their relationship can only be inferred at this point, supplemented by information not yet available to the jury.)
When interviewed Jana was under the impression the Network would provide direct assistance including supplying the means. Harry assured her that that "she has to acquire the means to end her life on her own." He mentioned that the Network "discourages violence and prefers inhalation" which the lawyer described as a peaceful, painless way to exit to which he concurred. Her family did not know of her plans. He stressed that the Network does not encourage anyone to end their life nor does it initiate any inquiries; in fact, up to the end the person is asked if they want to change their mind.
His duties would be to call the applicant for an appointment where he would, on the second call, complete the intake form in a phone conversation that could last more than an hour, review it for accuracy and readability, and fax it to the Case Coordinator, Roberta Massey (from whom we will hear next week.) When asked why he first got involved with Hemlock he responded eloquently, including "It's an extension of your choice to live or not to live when the quality of your life is horrible."
There were a few questions on cross-examination again stressing that the Network does not recruit people or provide physical help. Harry testified that he told Jana that the Network wouldn't do anything for her, that she had to do it for herself. He made it clear that he did his job efficiently but would not speculate on how the rest of the Network operated. He wrote on her interview that caution should be exerted in accepting the case since she said she did not know her prognosis. It was not his job to provide counseling. There was a comment on the bottom of the interview form, in another handwriting, that said "Accept 3/2 but stay alert. Exit 4/12 Langsner and Wye."
I think the jury could not help but be impressed with Harry Lien's intelligence, dedication, and thoroughness as well as the careful procedures employed by the Network. One of the spectators, Sam Marcus, a Network member from Tempe, commented that the trial was a "traveshammockery" since he strongly felt that people should have the right to a peaceful assisted death without government interference. The trial resumes Monday at 10:30 with testimony from more Network people that could provide some drama and further clarify to the jury what the Network does and how it operates.
Ending so early in the day provided a chance to drive to beautiful Sedona before the expected snowfall (!) on the weekend. The trip that normally takes two hours was ultimately a success despite a flat tire on the highway. Rob Rivas and Ted Goodwin valiantly tried to fix it, assisted by a state trooper, and eventually by AAA though the driver got his tow truck stuck in the sand and needed another tow truck to get him out. Law is not the only area where you can fall into a trap.
Taking a two day break from a not-taxing-enough week to explore. But the temperature will go down to 59 degrees and rain is expected in sunny Phoenix. Rob Rivas will return to his neglected law practice so we will miss his very helpful legal translations since so much goes on between the judge and the attorneys whose significance is often lost to us plebians.
Monday 11 April 2011
After a partly cold/rainy and partly sunny/beautiful weekend visiting two world-class museums -- the Heard (Indian art) and the Musical Instruments Museum (sensational) -- and Sunday a day of Werner Herzog, Jean Auel (Clan of the Cave Bear), and more at the beautiful Tempe Arts Center I am back at court -- with additional Network supporters -- namely, Earl Wettstein from Tuscon (the first prez of the Network), and Linda Banez and Jay Kay (members of Hemlock of San Diego). Rob Rivas and Julia couldn't bear to miss the trial and decided to stay.
The state began with brief testimony from the Assistant Medical Examiner stating that Jana Van Voorhis died of "obstructive asphyxia with helium inhalation" in an "undetermined manner" -- a conclusion he reached four months after his original autopsy. I didn't hear him state the first conclusion which probably had to do with natural death or possibly suicide. Now it wavers between suicide and homicide.
The rest of the day was devoted to the state's examination of its 9th witness, Roberta Massey, whom we all know in the early Network days as the compassionate and caring first Case Coordinator, a position she held for about two years and was a board member most of that time. Ironically, she had first applied for the Network's services and is still a candidate. Today she walked with the help of arm braces (like crutches) but sounded strong, honest, and so helpful that the jury was probably ready to sign up.
The state had all the files confiscated from Larry Egbert, Bernie Klein, and others whom I mentioned last week and -- after all sides agreed which files were to be evidence -- the questioning was based on that information. Roberta had been the Case Coordinator in 2007 and was the first person who spoke to Jana after she contacted the Network. Jana was asked to forward medical records and a letter explaining her request for services -- all of which the jury will review. From there Roberta forwarded a request for the intake interview to Harry Lien, from whom we heard last week, and then, after the case was approved it went to Frank Langsner, the Exit Guide, and to Wye Hale-Rowe as the Senior Guide (Wye will be testifying later in the week.)
Roberta testified that she had also been an Exit Guide, as had Larry, and described a hastened death where she participated as a "friend" where Larry was the Senior Guide. She was questioned extensively about the Network Training Manual which outlines the procedures. She explained why members only could avail themselves of the service, that the annual dues was $50. She said that, though she was reimbursed for expenses like phone and travel, neither she -- nor anyone in the Network -- received payment for their services. In answering why the Network removed the tanks and hood she said that it was the patient's preference, in almost all cases. She was asked about the prohibition against leaving identifying Network information on a phone message and said that the patient may not have informed family members though it was encouraged.
The state had constructed a large chart showing the chain of communication in the Network and a map designating parts of the country where there were board members or guides (hard to see from the audience box.) Membership letters and cards were shown as well as all the correspondence and files on Jana's case.
The D.A. seemed to think there was something sinister in the fact that Roberta could sit in NJ and communicate with volunteers in AZ, CO, and everywhere in the country. Roberta said there were many occasions where she would talk to people who would then change their mind about hastening their death. She explained that the Network was security conscious since it didn't want to encounter people who were against the philosophy. She discussed the training sessions where she and Larry participated and the mention of how grateful people were that the Network was there. The book, Final Exit, was displayed and Roberta said everyone accepted into the program had to read it though the Network discouraged people from ending their lives alone. She said it was important to do it right and agreed with Ms. Leckrone that a successful death was the goal (as opposed to brain damage.)
At 4:30 the interrogation ended for the day. It seemed almost like they were trying to wear Roberta down. She couldn't talk to any of us and was accompanied by her two young lawyers. The questioning will continue tomorrow. For better or worse the jury is getting a good idea of how the Network operates, warts and all. Though it was interesting it was hard not to nod off with all the detailed exhibits and the rather repetitive questioning.
I saw the movie, Lincoln Lawyer, tonite just to get Hollywood's idea of what a trial should look like and how a criminal defense attorney is supposed to operate. Now, that's excitement! No wonder we are all disappointed in the pace of a non-fiction trial.
Tuesday 12 April 2011
It's 10:30, Roberta MasseY is back on the stand being questioned by Sherry Lekcrone for the state of Arizona.
The examination continues in a detailed, repetitive manner. Roberta agrees that accepting cases under Larry Egbert was fast. Jana's Intake Application was sent to Larry 2/27/07 and he approved the case 5 days later. Incredibly the D.A. asked Roberta if 2007 was a leap year. Jana's exit occurred 4/12/07 -- exactly 4 years ago today.
Files of several other Network applicants were reviewed, though the purpose was not clear since Roberta was not involved with all of them though Larry had apparently approved the cases. She did testify that there were always two Guides at an exit, a junior guide and a senior, more experienced guide -- Frank Langsner and Wye Hale-Rowe in the present case.
Around 11:15 came a sweeping breath of fresh air: Don Samuel, Larry's attorney, cross-examined Roberta. He was audible (the D.A. was not or if she was it was a monotone), he was animated, he was relevant, and he put things in perspective. Whew! He established that he and Roberta had not met before though they talked by phone, set up by the D.A., and that she had not spoken to Larry in two years but in the years they worked together she never saw him encourage a patient to end her life. She was still a Network member but no longer a volunteer. She agreed the Network, a national 501 C (3) organization, was not a secret organization since there is a web site, a brochure, and membership open to anyone, some of whom did not pay the full fee if they couldn't afford it. There are 3000 members and a board of directors whose names are public. The Network is not part of a crime ring and Larry is not the Godfather. ("Not even close," Roberta said.) The mission is to provide services and information to all with home visits and counseling to individuals and families. There is a firm policy not to provide physical assistance.
She testified that it is up to the patient whom to notify about their plans and to invite to their exit. Sometimes family members, doctors, friends are present while at other times the family is not told. One reason to keep the information limited to a small number of people is the possibility of civil commitment if the patient was thought to have a mental problem because of their wish to die. Also it would not be wise to discuss plans with unsympathetic people. And, most patients want their death to appear to be from natural causes rather than suicide so the Guides remove the tanks and hood.
Options, such as hospice or further treatment, are discussed; no one is encouraged to exit. People who contact the Network have often been discouraged from ending their lives and certainly from doing it by jumping, shooting, poisoning or other violent and/or ineffective and dangerous methods. Often people come to the Network after making those kinds of attempts. They discussed one case in which Roberta was involved of a lawyer whose doctor had volunteered to help but he preferred the Network's method and had an exit with his family participating, including his children.
After the case is approved Larry has no further contact with the case and does not talk to the patient, unless he is a Senior Guide which he has been in some cases. The flow chart presented by the D.A. yesterday was seriously challenged as being incorrect by Roberta, with questioning from Don. Medical records are sent to the Guides who then meet with the patient. Often the junior Guide meets and keeps in contact with the patient for a long time, often not ending in a Network exit. Roberta agreed that there are other right-to-die organizations in the U.S. and around the world.
Don's cross examination continued at 1:30 after the lunch break. He asked if a person making an exit must sign a form on two occasions stating that they are of sound mind, that they have carefully considered their decision, that they have an intractable illness and that their situation is intolerable, that they have been offered treatment, that they have considered the feelings of their families, and that no one helped them. Such a document is on record signed by Jana. She had a choice to have the equipment removed or not and chose, as most do, to have it removed. Larry said the Network was the only organization in the world that discouraged people form using our services, Roberta said. Examples were discussed of cases which were accepted but who either died a natural death or are still alive, including Roberta herself. Acceptance does not mean that anything is inevitable.
Antonia Bustamante continued with cross examination stressing the confidentiality of the proceedings. Roberta assigned the case to Frank and it was his first time as an Exit Guide. His job was to provide information, emotional support, discuss alternatives, and have as much contact as she needed. She was insistent on the exit and that her family not be informed and had planned how her body was to be found. Two companies provided hoods which a member was able to purchase once she had been accepted for services.
The DA conducted a rather boring re-direct examining literature and the web site to see if they say that the Network discourages suicide or provides alternatives. She seemed to want the Network to be a suicide prevention service. Roberta said that the question is always asked if the person wants to change her mind, at all points along the way. There is a rehearsal before the exit to prevent a suicide disaster where person doesn't die and/or winds up with brain damage. Roberta said one reason the equipment is removed so authorities don't become too familiar with the way the tanks are used for other than party purposes. She said that if a member is not accepted into the program she is not given information about the method or equipment. She indicated that Jana requested a doctor to determine acceptance but Roberta had to explain that that is not the procedure.
The jurors were permitted to ask Roberta questions. One question was: Have you personally ever had a file not accepted by Dr. Egbert. Answer: Yes
The second question was about the exit log for another patient Roberta had described whose exit she attended as a friend. "Did Roberta think he was crazy" Answer: Larry was concerned that he wasn't right in the head because he was slammed in the head with an elevator door. He hadn't had the same exposure I had. (Larry was Senior Guide in the case and participated in the exit.)
Roberta was finally released at 4:20 and court was adjourned till Wed at 1:30 because Frank's wife, Elaine -- whom we have all become fond of -- was having surgery in the morning. The judge, usually quite fair, is casual about the time involved for everyone involved including the five lawyers on our side, their families, and the ever-larger audience. This morning it included about 15 high school students studying homicide. Larry, 82, introduced himself as the younger of the two defendants. (Frank is 86 though looks about 60.) Not what they were expecting.
Jerry Dincin, president of the Network, came to the trial today and invited all participants to dinner tonite, courtesy of the Network. All three presidents of the Network were there: Earl Wettstein, Ted Goodwin, and Jerry. We all wore Final Exit Network buttons (which we are not allowed to wear in court.) Jerry talked about the importance of this case and that the Network must win -- to which we all raised our glasses. BTW, it's warm again -- 84 today.
Wednesday 13 April 2011
Well, this was the day we were all waiting for. The jury got a play by play description of what happens at a Final Exit Network exit. We started at 1:30 and, after a 10 minute lawyer/judge conference the state prolonged the suspense by putting on their 10th witness, a handwriting expert, who identified -- for some legal reason -- which of the hand-written notes on many of the papers in the files was written by Larry Egbert. But Witness #11, the one we were all waiting for, was actually present at Jana's death as the Senior Exit Guide and testified for two hours about the protocol of the Network and exactly what happened at the bedside, before, and after.
Wye Hale-Rowe, trained as a mental health professional, and an experienced family therapist, worked with Lois Schafer in Hemlock's Caring Friends program. Of course I knew her quite well then when I was President of Hemlock; she was a valuable asset as we were developing the program. Patrick Johnson called her as the state's 11th witness. She was and is a member of the Network; shortly after the organization started, she was on the Board and was the first Case Coordinator (I misspoke when I said that job was held by Roberta) and, later, a Senior Exit Guide (all volunteer positions.) She is the 3rd Network witness; interestingly, all were at least over 70, and all spoke clearly, precisely, and proudly about the Network and their roles in it. Their intelligence and dedication to this cause is impressive if not inspirational.
Wye said she participated in policy decisions, training for Guides, and writing proposals for the training manual. She had known Larry for a long time, met Frank at a training, and had not met Jana before the day of her exit. She had been asked to work on the case by Roberta Massey who was then Case Coordinator. On April 12, 2007, she flew to Phoenix from Colorado where she lived at the time. Her role as a Senior Guide was to direct the event and to pass final judgment if the candidate was completely appropriate. Frank was her Exit Guide (Wye refers to that role as Field Guide) and had given Jana support and information about what would happen if she went through the procedure to end her life. They went immediately to Jana's home, spent about an hour and a half talking with her and checking to see if she had the right equipment, that it worked and that she knew how to work it. In their presence she signed, for the second time, a statement that she wanted to hasten her death (I described the details yesterday.)
They did not discuss her alternatives or other options since this had been done previously and she was very clear about her wishes. Wye said she talked about Jana not wanting her sister to know and that she was frightened because she thought it would be painful to end her life. Wye assured her it would be peaceful and dignified if that's what she chose. Wye stressed that there were always at least two Guides present and that she would not have gone ahead with it alone or if there was something wrong with the equipment -- which was two 50 balloon helium tanks and an exit hood (heavy plastic, transparent bag with tubing to connect to the tanks, all of which was in prominent display in front of the jury.)
Wye showed Jana how to open the valve but Jana did not open it at that time. As is the protocol Wye and Frank arranged to return later. They thought it would be the next morning but Jana was insistent that she wanted them to return that night and gave them the garage door opener.
At this juncture of suspense and intrigue where you could hear a balloon drop in the courtroom my cell phone rang. Before I could kill it the bailiff showed me to the door and out I was. But, being cunning and resourceful, I pried the door open with the *^% cell phone and could see and hear and managed to write what was happening.
So, Wye and Frank returned in a few hours, around 9PM, parked in her garage and entered, noting a post-it that asked them to wipe their shoes with paper towels that were provided. Wye talked to Jana, who was in her night clothes, for about 15 minutes, always asking if she was sure she wanted to go through with this. She reviewed the instructions for putting the hood on her head and using the tank but Jana was almost insulted since she had practically memorized the illustrated directions in the book Final Exit.
They entered her bedroom and Wye arranged the pillows so she would be reclining rather than lying down which might interfere with her breathing and she could reach the valve on the tank. Jana hooked the tubing to the valve then rolled up the bag to eliminate air and put it on her head like a shower cap, with Wye's verbal instructions. Jana turned on the tank with Wye cautioning her to use a minimum flow lest the bag fly off, and she filled the bag with helium. Again Wye instructed her that after she pulled the bag down over her face there was no turning back. Jana pulled the bag over her face, breathed the helium and, according to Wye (though this sounded doubtful to many in the audience who had done this repeatedly) she fell asleep after around 8 minutes (it usually happens in seconds.) During that time there was irregular breathing and it was about 12 minutes before her breathing stopped. She checked Jana's pupillary reflexes, found no pulse, and concluded that death had occurred. After about 15 minutes Wye opened the tanks, though this was not part of the Network protocol, to make sure they were empty before disposing of them. She moved some of the pillows so that Jana was in a lying position. They wanted to make it look like a natural death since that had been her request and they wanted to "protect her privacy and dignity and that of her family."
Frank did not participate actively in her death but was present in the bedroom and, Wye thought, probably held her hand as a humane gesture. After that they packed up the tanks in one black garbage bag and had another for the hood and tubing because "I don't want anyone to associate the hood with the tanks." They were in the house for about an hour and a half altogether and left about 10 minutes after Jana died. Frank left the garage door opener in a mail box which Wye thought was probably her neighbor's. Jana had written her neighbor a note about finding her body but Frank accidentally left it on the table. They took the garbage bags to two different dumpsters in a nearby industrial park then returned to the Langsner home where Wye stayed overnight.
At this revealing point it was 4:30 and the judge adjourned court till 10:30 tomorrow. Now the jurors know all as does Jana's sister Vicky and her husband who have been sitting there throughout. I wonder what they're thinking. I slinked back into the courtroom; we all agreed that Wye did an excellent job of calmly and clearly telling our story.
Thursday 14 April 2011
Well, finally! At 4:15 this afternoon both sides rested their case -- no more testimony! Now, the important stuff: the judge decides the definition of "aid", both sides give their closing arguments, the judge instructs the jury, and the rest is in their hands. It's unclear how long all this will take except we do know that it's going into Week III. Tomorrow the jurors don't come and the lawyers discuss all of the above with the judge. It's important so I'll be there then return to San Diego for the weekend and come back Monday morning and continue reporting.
Today Wye Hale-Rowe continued to be cross-examined and re-directed on her important testimony yesterday though most of today's questioning unearthed nothing new. Still she was on the stand from 10:30 to 2:15, not counting the hour and a half for lunch and frequent sidebars (it is amusing to see all 6 attorneys -- 4 for our side and 1 more when Rob Rivas was here -- approach the judge for these conferences.)
There were few new or interesting disclosures. Wye had mentioned that she called Jana's sister Vicki the morning after the exit and said she was from Jana's church and knew Jana was not well and hadn't seen her so was concerned. She did that since Frank had forgotten to post the letter to her neighbor who was supposed to find her body. Also Jana wanted her sister to know, but only after the fact. As her sister testified last week, she didn't go to Jana's house till 3 days after the call.
Don Samuel cross-examined Wye and established that they had never met, that Wye and Larry had not discussed Jana's case either before or after her exit, and that both Wye and Larry strongly favor family involvement when possible. Jana wanted privacy and did not want her sister involved. Part of the reason to remove the equipment was to respect her wishes. "The way to avoid investigation is to remove the equipment," Wye said. She described Jana as "resolute and rational." In answer to Don's queries Wye said Jana's death was peaceful, dignified and totally her choice. She explained that once a person is accepted into the program a Guide can raise objections and, as happens in many cases, the patient can change her mind. Don mentioned a few people who were accepted many years ago and are still around including Wye's roommate, Carolyn Roberts, who was sitting in the audience looking very much alive. She told me she is still in the program. In one case the Guide died before the patient.
On cross examination by Antonio Bustamante Wye said one reason Jana did not want her sister to know is that she feared her sister would have her put away. Wye was asked to read from the Network training manual: Be sure to stress, under no circumstances do we provide the equipment or help the patient physically use the equipment during the exit. (Underlining in the manual.)
One question from a juror was asked: In the Exit Log it says a call was arranged to be made to her sister at Jana's request. Wye had said before that it was her own idea but answered that Jana wanted her sister to know but did not specifically request a call be made.
Following Wye's prolonged testimony the state presented their 12th and last witness, Jared "Tom" Thomas, Jana's sister's husband. He said they lived 3 miles from Jana and heard from her about every 3 weeks (a little different from his wife's testimony.) Just before her death they saw her for an Easter family party at their home and the next day at an Easter brunch. The next time they saw her was when they went to her home and found her body. He mentioned that he found a number of pills in a bag, taped to a drawer in the kitchen, and a bag with their labels in another drawer. "I thought she had taken pills." They found a brochure from the Network though they said they did not find a copy of the book Final Exit.
There were many police pictures that were taken in her house including her file cabinet. Though there was no file from the Final Exit Network there was a thick file labeled "Hemlock Society" that appeared to have about 60 pieces of paper in it. (This matter was not pursued.) There was one jury question about the location of the pills that were found.
The defense did not put on witnesses, so neither Larry Egbert nor Frank Langsner testified. Both sides rested their cases around 4PM. The jury was told to return Monday at 10:30. And that, folks, is the case. Now, the important part: what is the definition of the crime that the jury will decide and how will they see it.
It was a balmy evening. I wandered to Heritage Square, near the downtown campus of ASU and the graceful, old basilica. There were lovely old homes, cafes, the Science Museum, flowering trees. I had an unusually good Japanese dinner at Nobuo's in the Square then walked over, past the huge Convention Center, to the very impressive Symphony Hall to hear an excellent all-Scandinavian concert (including Sibelius' second symphony.) On the way back I stopped in at the AZ Latino Arts and Cultural Center and found an interesting birthday present for my daughter. Some of the artists had unflattering things to say about Governor Jan Brewer and the state's anti-immigration policies. Odd that no one has asked me for my papers so far.
I'll be back to report on the proceedings Monday. Can't tell you what the lawyers and judge say tomorrow since, though it will be in open court, it should be on the QT. Let us pray that the definition is reasonable and that the jurors won't take too long to find a Not Guilty verdict. Divine intervention in this case couldn't hurt.
Monday 18 April 2011
No, you didn't miss Day 10. Friday was spent with the lawyers and the judge arguing over definitions and jury instructions out of the presence of the jury. The defense moved for a directed verdict (i.e., asking the judge to declare a Not Guilty verdict) but that motion was denied. There were obscure discussions about whether the definition of "aid" includes "advice" or "advise" (the latter prevailed) and if the alleged perpetrators had to have knowledge that their actions were a crime. Many of these technical, though important, legal issues came out today in closing arguments.
Starting, finally, at 11:45 the judge issued his instructions to the jury which are lengthy, detailed, and complex. Dr. Larry Egbert, who was Medical Director for the Network during the period of this case (April 2007) is charged with conspiracy to commit Manslaughter; Frank Langsner, who was an Exit Guide in 2007, is charged with conspiracy and manslaughter by aiding suicide. The judge, on Friday, defined "aid" broadly as meaning to assist in the commission of an act, either by an active participation in it or in some manner advising or encouraging it. (Since the beginning of this model with the Caring Friends program we concluded that to not commit a crime in all 50 states, each having their own definitions, we would not provide physical assistance or the means. These two prohibitions continue very clearly even today with the Network.) The jury heard 4 closing arguments today and will continue with the state's rebuttal tomorrow.
First we heard from young, earnest Patrick Johnson, for the state, who made everything that happened in this case fit into the definitions of "conspiracy" and "aid." He argued that Frank and Larry knew their conduct was a crime and that the whole Network organization was a conspiracy. He opened with "Do you want to do it" Are you sure" Well, we're from the Final Exit Network and we're here to help you with your death." He said that the Network does exactly what its name indicates -- helps people get to their final exit. He repeated the entire sequence of events that occurred from the time Jana called the Network to join to the time she ended her life with Frank and Wye in attendance and the equipment was disposed of. In describing Wye's phone call to Jana's sister he pointed out that she didn't say, "Your sister died last night, so sorry for your loss" but that she made up a lie about being from the church. He said the case was not about Jana's wishes or about advocating for a change in the law but that "this is the law and you have to follow it." He defined "accomplice liability" in that even if Frank were less active than Wye he is equally responsible as an active participant in providing aid. Fran Schindler came today and was almost raging as we were hearing all this. At lunch we were plotting for the worst case scenario.
After lunch Patrick explained the four elements of Conspiracy: agreement to engage in certain conduct, a common criminal objective, the defendant(s) intended to promote or assist in the commission of such conduct, and that knowledge that the conduct, aiding suicide, was a crime. It was here that Patrick wove a story, based on the training manuals, the organizational structure, the disposal of the equipment, talk of "the authorities" and the inevitability of death occurring when a person was "accepted" in the program. He concluded,"You (the defendants) had a goal to advise and encourage Jana Van Voorhis to take her life. You (the jury) must hold them responsible."
At 2 PM Don Samuel gave the first closing for the Network defendants and allowed us to breath easier. (Kristen and Antonio followed.) Except that Clarence Darrow didn't have trouble with his power point, Don proved himself a superb defense attorney with an argument that carefully disputed the legal definitions but also provided a compassionate defense of the Network's mission. He started by reminding the jury that their decision would be one of the most important of their lives and must be based on accurate information about the facts and the law.
He reiterated that the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Larry joined a conspiracy, in that he agreed with another person that they would violate a particular law and that that law was the "aiding a suicide" crime in Arizona. "The Gambino family engages in conspiracies" not volunteers who are members of an IRS tax exempt organization that has a president, a board, brochures, lectures and meetings, a phone number, volunteers and public membership of more than 3000 people. It is not enough to show that people get together and have a common goal. The state must prove that Larry agreed that someone would encourage, advise, and actively participate in the suicide of Ms. Van Voorhis. But Larry never agreed, at any time, that anyone would encourage, advise or participate in anyone's suicide. Since the state raised the question of why the Network doesn't try to talk people out of suicide, Don pointed out that it is not a suicide hot line but that we do inquire if people want to go through with it at every step along the way. He was careful to point out that many patients who have been "accepted" into the program are still alive today including two that were in court last week.
Don did mention that even if jurors might have found Larry reckless, if they thought he could have been more careful, it would still not mean that he intended to violate the law. Our mission is NOT to aid, ENCOURAGE or PARTICIPATE in suicides but rather to talk to people about their choices, to give them guidance if they are thinking about a choice to end their lives. The manuals make it clear that no one is allowed to provide active participation, that it is not a crime to give advice, answer questions, and provide information about having a painless, dignified death, and that we discourage people from applying or hastening their death.
Don reminded us that Patrick said the reason for Jana's death is not relevant. But her desire, her wish IS relevant. She was never encouraged but, to the contrary, was insistent that her wishes be carried out. Larry never provided equipment, never talked to Jana, never provided medication, never talked to Wye or Frank about this case, didn't pay or authorize anyone, and never encouraged anyone. On the list of people Larry had accepted which included Jana were three others who were still alive four years later which shows there was no conspiracy to have acceptance result in death. He said the jury was the most important institution in government. That they would tell their grandchildren about a case of two men, in their 80's, who belonged to an organization that had firm beliefs of the right of people to make a choice about how they died. "You will look at your grandchildren and tell them you voted Not Guilty."
Kristen spoke dynamically in her half hour closing pointing out that the DA wants to show the Network as an evil, mob-like organization which doesn't want families involved, which is the opposite of what we encourage. The training manual says that the most important thing a Guide brings is compassion, an ability to listen, and information. The Network values its members' privacy and that these files and pictures of Jana violate her wish for dignity. She agrees that Patrick is right that the Network researched the law -- but not to violate it but to follow it. "No one should have to make these end of life decisions alone. It is about dignity, privacy, compassion. This was a doctor who volunteered his time and cared."
Antonio Bustamante, Frank's lawyer, reminded the jury in his closing that there is no duty to stop or prevent suicide. Frank's role was to provide support, information, warmth, understanding, and to listen, not to end Jana's life. Even if she loved her relatives, she did not want them to know she took her own life. Often they feel guilt or shame when they have this information. "Jana was mistress of her life. It would dishonor her for people to know she committed suicide." He did point out that Frank ("Professor Langsner) was nothing more than a potted plant at the final scene since Wye totally directed events. "Frank did what he could do, within the bounds of the law, so that Jana could die peacefully, with dignity."
Though our side was superb, by 4:20 everyone was exhausted. Court was adjourned till tomorrow at 10:30.
FYI, the jury of 8 must reach a unanimous verdict. Though 11 jurors heard the case they will draw lots tomorrow to see which 3 are considered Alternates and they will not deliberate (imagine, sitting there all that time and then being sent home!) If anyone is found guilty sentencing will not happen for 30-45 days. Hope this is not more than you want to know ;-)
Tuesday 19 April 2011
According to the psychological principles of recency and primacy the DA has a decided advantage in this case. Patrick gave the first closing statement yesterday (primacy) and his more experienced colleague, Sherry Leckrone, gave a fiery one this morning -- then the jurors went to deliberate (recency). So, they have in their minds that the Network is a well-organized, sinister, criminal conspiracy designed to aid (participate in, encourage and advise) suicide thus violating the laws of Arizona.
The jurors can ask questions of the judge while they're deliberating. This afternoon they asked, What do "manslaughter," "assist," and "commission of the act" mean in the jury instructions? The judge answered that he was not legally able to give any better explanation, that they had to read the entire jury instructions and decide for themselves. I find this problem the most ironic in that it was not until Friday when he defined the meaning of "aid" that we knew the illegal nature of what we had allegedly done. Though ignorance of the law is no excuse, it does seem like if we are all conspiring to commit a crime we should have known earlier what the crime is.
Sherry, an attractive blond maybe 38, started her attack with: "That's their defense?I wasn't involved because all I did was to authorize the whole organization to go forward?..If I did conspire and agree it wasn't for that intended conduct?and I didn't know it was a crime?"
Sorry not to get her whole convoluted line of reasoning down but it went by pretty quickly -- and was clever and insidious focusing on the Network not taking responsibility. She continued, "Blame it on Jana, she's the one who made the choice, she's the one who didn't want her sister there. HER reasons for suicide are not justification for THEIR aiding her suicide."
Then she got in the fact that Jana was not terminally ill, which the jury was not supposed to hear (although I think they'd already deduced that). She said that though the defense talks a lot about hospice, terrible illnesses and end of life issues, it is only to distract your attention from this case.
She argued that our side was blaming the government for exposing a photo of Jana three days dead rather than take the blame for not notifying the family and that it belies our plea for a dignified death. To Larry she directed a "shame on you" for not even contacting Jana personally insinuating that he violated his Hippocratic oath. She dwelled on the security measures the Network stresses in its training manual as evidence that it knew it was doing illegal acts. And she said that dignity and comfort are stated objectives even though people have to put a bag on their head and "gas" themselves.
It is her charge to the jury that the Network acts like any other criminal organization despite the talk about Harvard, Johns Hopkins, and "professors" it is "just like the Mafia." Though she did give us credit for being smart in that the Network is "looking legitimate and even untaxable." The dead body was left to "look like they're not involved."
She was also incensed that Don called Patrick on a point in the law and said, "How dare they insult Mr. Johnson"? and mentioned that the lawyers (Don and Kristen) had come from Georgia and were "telling us about AZ law." "They act like they're too good to follow our law." She analogized to an Oxford professor coming here and driving on the wrong side of the road. She also used comparisons with football, car repair, and robbing a pizza delivery man -- all pretty clever for her audience. In discussing those people who were accepted but are still alive she stressed that "when those people are ready the Network is ready."
"This is a life and death case. This group substituted their judgment for our laws." Using Don's thoughts about what to tell your grandchildren she said to tell them that this law prevents abuse".Tell them with a guilty verdict on all charges."
Following this diatribe the judge instructed the bailiff to randomly select three jurors whom he designated as alternates so they would not deliberate, unless one of the other 8 jurors was unable to. He charged the jury on the 9 things they had to do and stressed that the verdicts had to be unanimous. There are two counts against Frank and one against Larry.
The jury is now composed of six women and two men. Roughly 3 jurors seem older (over 40) and 4 seem younger (20-30). I would guess 4 are Hispanic. The jury can start deliberating at 8AM if they wish (apparently they are coming in at 9AM tomorrow.) The lawyers will have an hour to get to court once the jury returns a verdict. As you can imagine this will be a difficult case to decide. I make no predictions.
A note: both Larry and Frank have had their wives, Ellen and Elaine, with them throughout and Frank's three adult children were in court at different times. Elaine went in for serious surgery Wednesday morning and appeared in court Monday looking well and cheerful. Frank, always dapper in jacket and tie, is considering how he might look in horizontal gray stripes. Ellen Barfield, Larry's wife, has been a strong crusader against war and for social justice and has been in jail numerous times. During the trial she had to fly to D.C. for a hearing; apparently her sentencing is postponed till this case is over.
One of our readers pointed out that divine intervention did not help Joan of Arc so let's think of another plan.
Wednesday 20 April 2011
To make a short story shorter, the jury is still out folks. Oh to be fly on the wall and hear their deliberations! I hope the attorneys interview them afterwards to find out what they're probably arguing about. I was on a hung jury once and it was the most exhausting experience I can remember. Not that we know it's hung but they've had a day and a half now.
Rob Rivas got the information from the lawyers today that they had a question for the judge. They said they thought Larry was innocent of the conspiracy charge but wanted to write on their form that he thought he was "reckless." This idea came up in Don's closing and he invited them to write that if that's what they thought. The judge said no. So they resumed deliberations and that is certainly hopeful for Larry. I was worried that it would open the door to a civil suit but Rob assures me that the statute of limitations has expired for that to happen.
I think it would be appropriate at this point to tell you that Roberta and Wye had also been arrested in this casebut had earlier pled Guilty, a condition of which was to testify for the prosecution. At one point the D.A. was about to declare Wye a "hostile witness" since she not receptive to the questioning. I think that didn't happen. Both women are sick and thought they could get it over with without further trauma if they entered a plea. Without their testimony the DA barely had a case.
As you remember, Wye's testimony especially detailed how we operated in this case. In fact it was the most detailed exposition of what we do that I've ever heard. I think, in the long run, it was probably good for it to all hang out and for the jury to base their decisions on the actual facts rather than what they would have to guess at. It there is an acquittal then our procedures will not have to be modified. Otherwise, we will have to rethink how we can provide information and support without it being a conspiracy or participation, encouragement, or advising.
I waited around yesterday afternoon, though went sightseeing to the city of Mesa, at the east end of the light rail line. Interesting though hardly charming but with a $90 million Arts Center which was impressive. I've concluded that there is too much space in Arizona so the streets are wide, the buildings set far apart, which is not conducive for walking around sightseeing, especially in 86 degree weather.
I did wait around at the courthouse this morning but decided to return home so I am back in La Jolla and getting the news indirectly. But I will report what I hear. I sympathize with the jury -- this is a difficult case because the law leaves room for interpretation and that can depend on whether you see the Network as a merciful service provided by altruistic volunteers who provided a humane and peaceful death to a woman who desperately requested our services, or a group of lawbreakers who have stealthily pushed an irrational woman into ending her life in an undignified way, leaving a bereaved sister. And it has to be beyond a reasonable doubt!
Thursday 21 April 2011
YAY! NO CONVICTIONS! As you've read by this time the jury could not reach a unanimous verdict about whether Frank committed Manslaughter -- if such a thing is even imaginable. Three jurors apparently did vote to convict him but four did not and one couldn't decide. And Larry is NOT part of a conspiracy!
Rob Rivas sent information he received from the lawyers including this about Don's impression of the jury (they were allowed to talk to them after the judge dismissed them):
Don says the jurors were exceptionally smart, well informed, and diligent. He says they reached a verdict by late afternoon Wednesday on Dr. Egbert's innocence, never looking back, and spent all the rest of the time arguing about Frank.
The jurors said they were totally dazzled by the skill and professionalism of the lawyers on both sides. They felt they had participated in an exalted process. They said they would never again think "lawyer jokes" are funny.
The judge might have required them to continue deliberating Friday morning, but toward the middle of the afternoon today, the judge emerged from his chambers to find a female juror crying her eyes out in the hallway outside the jury deliberation room. At that point, he told the lawyers what was happening, and everybody agreed to let the jury announce their result, be it a verdict or a deadlock. Only then did the lawyers discover that the verdict had been settled as to Larry long ago.
Interesting about the juror who was crying. I'm not surprised because the pressure in that room can be overwhelming. There are still some issues to be decided. As Rob says, there will probably not be a retrial but we want to hear it from the judge's mouth. Then there is the question of what sentences Wye and Roberta will get -- and for what crime, and when. Then, as many of you know, there is another case pending in Georgia which looks like it will go to the GA Supreme Court without an actual trial. Please read the press release from the Final Exit Network for more details. There are a lot of interesting wrinkles in the Georgia case that will make it highly significant to our movement.
It is comforting to know that Don Samuel will be involved in that case too. (Just speculating that if Dr. Jack had Don in that Michigan courtroom his life may have taken a different course) I concur that our legal team was superb. I couldn't have done it myself, but I do credit the other side for doing their job of making us out to be villains. Not good enough, though, to win their case. When Patrick first asked the potential jurors, during voir dire, how many thought this case was a waste of time I think he finally got his answer.
But today is history-making. It means that all the care we took in avoiding illegal acts while at the same time providing information about choosing a peaceful death to carefully screened Network members passed muster. This is the first time our procedures have been subjected to legal scrutiny. The jurors knew everything and still agreed, for the most part, that this is not a criminal conspiracy and that we do not aid a suicide. Hopefully this will mean that we continue offering people choices and that some of the anxiety associated with the suffering of terminal and chronic conditions can be alleviated with the possibility of a humane and dignified death.
The drama took place in a small courtroom with only two rows of seats on each side of the door. Jana's sister and her supporters sat on the right, we were on the left. Total seating was about 40 and we always had supporters on our side. On two occasions school kids came in and occupied all the seats for a while. It would be interesting to have heard their discussions. Maybe the next generation will see this issue more clearly which would enable us to offer additional services in an even more transparent manner. And Frontline recorded the whole trial so we may see more about it on national TV.
I will keep you informed as new developments occur. I used to be a forensic psychologist and found it exciting to be in a courtroom and among lawyers again. I look forward to marching to Georgia.
[editor: This marks the end of dispatches from Faye Girsh; the following materials have various sources but all appeared originally on the ERGO mailing list.]
Thursday 21 April 2011, announcing the verdit
A jury found the medical director of Final Exit Network, a national right-to-die group, innocent of conspiring to assist in a suicide, but could not reach a verdict as to one of the organization's "exit guides."
The Maricopa County Superior Court jury deliberated from Tuesday through Thursday before finding Dr. Lawrence D. Egbert, 83, of Baltimore, the Network's volunteer medical director, not guilty of conspiracy to commit manslaughter by aiding in a suicide.
The eight-member jury could not reach a unanimous verdict as to Franklin R. Langsner, 86, a suburban Phoenix resident and "exit guide" for the Network, who was charged with manslaughter by aiding in a suicide and with conspiracy. The jury voted 7 to 1 to acquit Langsner of conspiracy, and 4-4 to acquit him of aiding in a suicide.
Derek Humphry, founder of the Hemlock Society USA and author of 'Final Exit,' said: "Dr. Egbert's acquittal is excellent news. It marks a significant step forward in the long march to achieve everybody's right to choose to die."
FINAL EXIT NETWORK VOLUNTEERS FOUND INNOCENT IN RIGHT-TO-DIE CASE
PHOENIX, Arizona, April 21, 2011
A jury found the medical director of Final Exit Network, a national right-to-die group, innocent of conspiring to assist in a suicide, but could not reach a verdict as to one of the organization's "exit guides."
After a two-week trial, the Maricopa County Superior Court jury deliberated from Tuesday through Thursday before finding Dr. Lawrence D. Egbert, 83, of Baltimore, the Network's volunteer medical director, not guilty of conspiracy to commit manslaughter by aiding in a suicide.
The eight-member jury could not reach a unanimous verdict as to Franklin R. Langsner, 86, a suburban Phoenix resident and "exit guide" for the Network, who was charged with manslaughter by aiding in a suicide and with conspiracy. The jury voted 7 to 1 to acquit Langsner of conspiracy, and 4-4 to acquit him of aiding in a suicide.
The result of the two-week trial was a blow to the Phoenix police and the Maricopa County sheriff and prosecutor's offices. They had conducted an extraordinarily expensive, nationwide investigation in an effort to charge and convict the Network's volunteers.
The Maricopa County sheriff's office and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation ("GBI") have unsuccessfully solicited hundreds of other law enforcement agencies across the country to charge the Network's volunteers with crimes in connection with other deaths.
The 3,000-member not-for-profit Georgia corporation argues that "mentally competent adults have a basic human right to end their lives when they suffer from a fatal or irreversible illness or intractable pain, when their quality of life is personally unacceptable, and the future holds only hopelessness and misery," according to its website (www.finalexitnetwork.com).
The all-volunteer Network insists that under protocols followed for years, they "do not encourage anyone to end their life, do not provide the means to do so, and do not actively assist in a person's death" when a member performs his or her own "self-deliverance." Instead, they say, they provide their members with "support" in suicides " in the form of information, education, and a compassionate presence " "when medical circumstances warrant" the members' decision to end their lives.
Arizona and Georgia allege that the Network's volunteers "aid" or "assist" in the suicides of the group's members. Though suicide itself is not illegal, it is a felony in most states for one to "aid" or "assist" another in suicide.
Langsner and Wye Hale-Rowe, 83, a Network "senior exit guide," provided support to Jana Van Voorhis, 58, when she committed suicide in her Phoenix home in their presence on April 12, 2007.
Egbert, Langsner, Hale-Rowe, and Roberta Massey, 65, a "case coordinator" for the Network from Cherry Hill, New Jersey, were indicted on a charge of conspiracy, while Langsner and Hale-Rowe were indicted on an additional charge of manslaughter by directly aiding in the suicide.
Hale-Rowe and Massey both pled not guilty to the charges at first, but last year plea-bargained to a minor charge in exchange for their testimony against Langsner and Egbert. Many observers in the courtroom felt that their testimony helped to exonerate Dr. Egbert and Langsner of the charges against them. Their plea agreements required them to "provide complete and truthful testimony."
The Network's officers say the Phoenix authorities "terrorized" Hale-Rowe and Massey, who both suffer from debilitating illnesses, into pleading guilty.
Van Voorhis's death at first was recorded as a natural death, but after weeks of effort, her sister persuaded the Phoenix police to investigate. On June 12, 2007, detectives executed search warrants on the homes of Hale-Rowe in Denver and Langsner in Scottsdale.
At first alarmed by the searches, the Network leadership heard nothing more about the Phoenix investigation for more than a year. They began to assume the authorities must have determined, correctly, that they did not provide any illegal "assistance" in Van Voorhis's death. Then, suddenly, on February 25, 2009, the GBI and many cooperating law enforcement agencies arrested four Network volunteers -- including Egbert -- and executed search warrants or questioned witnesses at the homes of Network volunteers in Ohio, Michigan, Missouri, Maryland, Georgia, Colorado, Montana, and Florida.
The Phoenix authorities had secretly been cooperating with the GBI in an investigation into the death of John Celmer, 58, of Cumming, Georgia, a small town in the far northern Atlanta suburbs. Arrested in the Georgia case were Egbert; a volunteer Network coordinator, Nicholas A. Sheridan, 62, also of Baltimore; the Network's former president, Thomas E. (Ted) Goodwin, 65, of Atlanta and Punta Gorda, Florida; and an exit guide, Claire H. Blehr, 78, of Atlanta. Goodwin and Blehr had attended Celmer's death.
The defendants in Georgia are charged with aiding in a suicide, tampering with evidence, and racketeering. On Tuesday the trial court denied their motions to dismiss the indictment on grounds that the Georgia statute on assisting in a suicide violates the First Amendment.
Because the state and the defendants are seeking to appeal this week's decision to the Supreme Court of Georgia before trial, the trial of the four Georgia suspects, if one is ever held, might not take place for years. For now, Egbert, Sheridan, Goodwin, and Blehr are free on $60,000 bail apiece.
"Seven members of the Network's leadership were charged with serious crimes for exercising their First Amendment-protected right to support an individual's right to die, having provided only information, literature, and counseling on how they could safely and effectively terminate their own suffering," said the Network's president, Jerry Dincin, a retired psychologist who lives in suburban Chicago.
"It is outrageous that the law enforcement authorities in Phoenix and Atlanta would spend such resources to hunt down and prosecute our geriatric, compassionate volunteers as if they were a threat to society. Don't they have enough real criminals to chase after"?
Long after the arrests and indictments in early 2009, the Network learned that the Arizona and Georgia police were cooperating not only in their prosecutions, but in an effort to instigate additional charges being brought against the Network all across the country.
"So far, although scores of police agencies have been solicited to investigate local deaths involving exit guides, not a single one has seen fit to waste its time and resources by bringing any charges," said the Network's general counsel, Robert Rivas, of Tallahassee, Florida. "The Atlanta and Phoenix police agencies sought to bankrupt the Network without a fair trial, simply by provoking massive, nationwide investigations. Yet they have failed to find support among other law enforcement agencies, and the Network shows no sign of being defeated by these un-American tactics."
The Network has confirmed investigations in Athens, Ohio; Lincoln, Nebraska; Mount Vernon, Washington; Middlebury, Connecticut; Washington, D.C.; Ann Arbor, Michigan. "We know these were only a small number of the many investigations that were solicited by the Georgia and Arizona authorities," Rivas said, "and none of them took the bait. They examined the facts and said to themselves, 'if these exit guides are not doing anything to actively assist in the suicide, they are not committing a crime'."
Counsel for Dr. Larry Egbert in
in both Georgia and Arizona:
Donald F. Samuel
Garland, Samuel & Loeb, P.C.
3151 Maple Drive. Atlanta, GA 30305
Phone: (404) 262-2225 Fax: (404) 365-5041
dfs at gsllaw.com
Counsel for Frank Langsner:
Antonio D. Bustamante
Law Office of Antonio D Bustamante, P.C.
1001 N. Central Ave., Suite 660. Phoenix, AZ 85004-1961
Phone: (602) 495-1414 Fax: (602) 253-7724
antonio_b at qwestoffice.net
President of Final Exit Network, Inc.:
Jerry Dincin, Ph.D. (retired psychologist)
Spokesman for Final Exit Network and board member:
Frank J. Kavanaugh
Punta Gorda, Florida
fjkavanaugh at comcast.net
Final Exit Network's General Counsel:
Sachs Sax Caplan, P.L.
310 W. College Ave. 3rd Floor
Tallahassee, FL 32301-1406
(850) 412-0306 Fax: (850) 412-0909
robrivas at aol.com
FOR THE RECORD
Trial of the volunteers of the Final Exit Network in the USA
A jury trial was held in Phoenix, Arizona during April 2011 concerning the death of Jana Van Voorhis, age 56, on April 12, 2007. She had chosen to die with the helium hood method with guides from the Final Exit Network in attendance. The accused and the verdicts were:
Laurence M. Egbert MD, aged 82, Baltimore, MD., former F E N medical director. Charge: conspiracy to commit manslaughter by aiding in a suicide. Plea: Not guilty. Verdict: Not guilty.
Wye Hale-Rowe, Ann Arbor MI, aged 82, volunteer helper. Charge: manslaughter. Pleaded guilty to a lesser charge, facilitation to commit manslaughter, because of poor health. Sentence: Probation.
Franklin R. Langsner, aged 86, Scottsdale, AZ, volunteer helper. Charge: manslaughter by aiding in a suicide and with conspiracy. Plea: Not guilty. Verdict: Hung jury. Jury voted 7 to 1 to acquit him of conspiracy, and 4-3 (1 abstention) to acquit him of aiding in a suicide. Retrial possible.
Roberta Massey, aged 65, Cherry Hill, NJ, former case coordinator. Conspiracy to commit manslaughter. Pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of facilitation to commit manslaughter because of poor health. Sentence: probation.
Length of trial: ten days. Jury deliberation: three days.
27 April 2011 source: ERGO