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Judge to rule in Kevorkian case Feb. 28

A judge dealt three blows to the prosecution and one to the defense Monday as he scheduled a Feb. 28 decision on whether Dr. Jack Kevorkian will stand trial for two assisted suicides.

Kevorkian was indicted after two women killed themselves in a remote cabin Oct. 23 using suicide devices he invented. His lawyers portrayed him during the three-day hearing as an angel of mercy who helped the women escape terrible pain.

Prosecutors say neither woman was terminally ill. One woman, Marjorie Wantz, was mentally ill and should have gotten treatment, assistant Oakland County prosecutor Larry Bunting argued.

Wantz, 58, of Sodus died from an injection of potassium chloride. Sherry Miller, 43, of Roseville died from inhaling carbon monoxide.

District Judge James P. Sheehy will decide Feb. 28 whether the 63-year-old retired pathologist should be charged with first-degree murder, second-degree murder or manslaughter, or whether charges should be dismissed.

Sheehy didn't directly address the key question in the case: whether assisted suicide is murder.

Bunting said a 1920 Michigan Supreme Court ruling defines the deaths of Wantz and Miller as murder. Defense attorney Geoffrey Fieger countered with a 1983 decision by the Michigan Appeals Court, a lower court, that said assisting suicide is not a crime.

The judge agreed to allow into evidence a police videotape of the candle-lit cabin and the two women's bodies. But he refused to hear from an expert on medical ethics, who was to testify that giving a patient drugs to help them die was unethical.

The judge also declined to let two psychiatrists who had treated Wantz testify. Bunting hoped the doctors would explain why they tried to have Wantz committed during a hospital stay to prove her pain was emotional.

Sheehy also refused to admit as evidence a 1991 civil court injunction that barred Kevorkian from assisting with any more suicides.

That ruling was issued after Kevorkian helped an Oregon woman kill herself in 1990. A first-degree murder charge against Kevorkian in that case was dismissed by a judge who ruled Michigan has no law against assisted suicide.