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Murder charge over TV mercy killing

JACK KEVORKIAN, the militant euthanasia campaigner known as Doctor Death, was charged yesterday with murder and other crimes, presaging the courtroom showdown for which he has long hankered. The charges were brought after prosecutors in Michigan viewed a videotape that purports to show him injecting a terminally ill patient.

An edited tape had been shown on a documentary programme, 60 Minutes, accompanied by the doctor's commentary. He gave it to CBS with the intention of challenging the authorities to clarify the law on assisted suicide. While he claims to have helped 130 people to end their lives, this was the first time he had been seen giving the injection himself.

In previous cases he has admitted only to assisting the patient to end his life and in each of three cases that came to court he was acquitted.

The death of Thomas Youk, 52, who was shown on the video assenting twice to his demise, was the boldest of Dr Kevorkian's challenges to the judicial establishment. Mr Youk had Lou Gehrig's disease: he could move only slightly and could barely speak but twice signed a form authorising his death. Family members, who left the house during the doctor's last visit to avoid charges of complicity, were unanimous in their approval of Mr Youk's decision and how it had been carried out.

After obtaining the unedited videotape from CBS, the Oakland county prosecutor, David Goryca, said the state had decided to press charges. In addition to first-degree (premeditated) murder, Dr Kevorkian faces charges of criminal assistance of a suicide and delivery of a controlled substance (the lethal injection). "Whether or not a jury will convict Dr Kevorkian of the charges," Mr Goryca said, "will soon be in their province.He brought it upon himself." There was no objection to bail, and the 70-year-old doctor was released after being indicted.

If convicted of murder, he could face the death penalty or life in prison without parole. On Monday Mr Goryca had delayed any decision on prosecution until he had seen the video. Announcing the charges yesterday, he acknowledged that Mr Youk and his family had consented to his death but said: "Consent is not a defence in the state of Michigan." The edited video showed Dr Kevorkian quiz Mr Youk several times about his intentions and then administer a series of injections: a sedative, a muscle relaxant and finally - when it was apparent Mr Youk was unconscious and his head was lolling backwards - the fatal injection that stopped the heart.

Afterwards the CBS presenter, Mike Wallace, half-asked: "You killed him?" To which Dr Kevorkian replied: "I did. But it could be manslaughter, not murder. It's not necessarily murder. But it doesn't bother me what you call it. I know what it is. This could never be a crime in any society which deems itself enlightened." He said that if convicted and imprisoned he would starve himself to death in prison.

Dr Kevorkian has been charged with murder before. The first time stemmed from the 1990 death of Janet Adkins of Portland, Oregon, the first person whose death he attended. The charge was dropped by a judge who ruled the state had no law banning assisted suicide.

He was also acquitted in three trials involving five deaths. A fourth was declared a mistrial.