Thursday, May 14, 2009 at 3:21 p.m.
Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas announced a few minutes ago that investigators from his office have busted four people on murder charges in the 2005 "assisted suicide" death of a seriously mentally ill Phoenix woman.
broke the news of this unusual and tragic case in 2007 in an extensive piece we called "Death Wish."
The four defendants -- who include retired Scottsdale resident Frank Langsner, a retired college professor -- have been charged with conspiracy to commit murder.
Langsner and Wye Hale-Rowe, another so-called "exit guide" from the Final Exit Network (a national assisted suicide outfit based in Georgia), also are facing manslaughter charges.
Phoenix police records (and reporting by New TImes) showed Langsner and Hale-Rowe, both in their 80s, were present when 58-year-old Jana Van Voorhis (seen in the photo in her younger days) killed herself by inhaling helium through a hose, with an oxygen-eliminating hood snugly over her head.
Langsner and Hale-Rowe (a retired family therapist and great-grandmother from Aurora, Colorado) then staged the scene at Van Voorhis' Phoenix condo to make it look as if the woman had just gone to sleep in her bed and died of unknown causes.
In its literature, Final Exit calls itself "the only organization in the United States willing to help individuals who are not `terminally ill'--six months or less to live--hasten their deaths. No other organization in the U.S. has the courage to make this commitment."
All of the evidence suggests that Jana Van Voorhis, however, was not suffering from a terminal illness when she died, but had suffered from chronic mental illness.
The other two people facing charges are Baltimore-area resident Dr. Larry Egbert, the former medical director for Final Exit, and New Jersey resident Roberta Massey, a "case coordinator" for the controversial organization.
The prosecution of the Final Exit crew apparently is the first in Arizona under the assisted-suicide section of the manslaughter statute, and promises to be a fascinating and closely watched legal battle.
More on this one soon.