Dr Death jailed for at least 10 years

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THE CONTROVERSIAL euthanasia campaigner Dr Jack Kevorkian fulfilled a long-standing ambition yesterday when he was sentenced to a minimum of 10 years in prison for murder by a court in Pontiac, near Detroit. He had been convicted last month of second-degree murder for administering a lethal injection to a terminally ill man.

Announcing the sentence of "between 10 and 25 years" - in line with the prosecution demand, but short of the life imprisonment she might have imposed - Judge Jessica Cooper told the faintly smiling doctor: "No one, Sir, is above the law. No one." Still smiling, the frail-looking doctor was clapped into handcuffs and led away to start his sentence. Bail pending appeal was refused.

For Kevorkian, known throughout the United States as the "doctor of death" for his crusade to give people the legal right to end their lives, this was perhaps his finest hour. He was first indicted in 1991 - as now, for murder - after helping a 54-year-old woman, Janet Adkins, to die, but the charges were dropped.

Last month's trial was the fifth time in nine years that he had stood in the dock, but it was his first conviction, and this is his first jail sentence. On the other four occasions he was charged with breaking the state of Michigan's law against assisted suicide, but never convicted.

What was different in this case was that Kevorkian had captured his role on film - and successfully sought the forum of a television documentary programme - CBS's flagship 60 Minutes - to make it public. With the fact of the patient's death on tape, the prosecution successfully sidelined the moral issue. And the judge agreed: "This trial was not about the political or moral correctness of euthanasia," she told Kevorkian firmly at yesterday's sentencing. "It was about lawlessness. It was about disrespect for a society that exists because of the strength of the legal system."

The 70-year-old retired pathologist, who was struck off in 1993, had admitted ending the life of 52-year-old Thomas Youk, who had become progressively paralysed by Lou Gehrig's disease. But he denied that he commited murder, insisting that he acted as a doctor to relieve his patient's suffering. Mr Youk's widow and brother said after the sentencing that the conviction was wrong and regretted that they had not been permitted to testify in Dr Kevorkian's defence.

Melody Youk said. "My husband was not a victim. He requested Dr Kevorkian's help and was grateful for it."

The doctor has admitted helping at least 130 people to die in the past decade, but this was the first time he was known to have given the fatal dose himself.

Judge Cooper invited Kevorkian to appeal. And Kevorkian made no mention of his threat, when first charged, to starve himself to death in prison. He now says he will wait until the appeal process is exhausted to take that step.