Jurors apparently won't be hearing from the two Final Exit Network defendants in a classic "right-to-die" case involving the assisted suicide of a mentally troubled Phoenix woman.
Attorneys for the pair, Dr. Larry Egbert and Frank Langsner, told Superior Court Judge Paul McMurdie yesterday afternoon that they don't plan to call any witnesses in the case, which touches on profound moral, ethical and legal issues.
Scottsdale resident Langsner, who is 86, is charged with manslaughter (under an assisting suicide statute) and conspiracy to commit manslaughter. Egbert, the medical director of the right-to-die organization Final Exit Network and a professor at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, is charged with conspiracy to commit manslaughter.
Readers of this blog know basic details of the case, which are available right here -- a story we cobbled together months after the April 12, 2007, suicide of Jana Van Voorhis.
Jurors today continued to consider testimony from Wye Hale-Rowe, a one-time "senior exit guide" for the Final Exit Network. She'd flown to Arizona to "direct" (her word) the suicide by helium inhalation of Van Voorhis, who had joined the organization ($50 for a membership) weeks before what it calls "the death event."
Hale-Rowe pleaded guilty to reduced charges last year in return for her testimony.
She confirmed that she and Langsner advised Van Voorhis how to attach a hose to a pair of helium tanks, to don an oxygen-eliminating hood snugly over one's head, and then to self-asphyxiate by inhaling the helium.
Her testimony was compelling, though the fact that Van Voorhis was not suffering a terminal illness made it equally creepy.
Hale-Rowe, who is a retired therapist also in her 80s, seemed to want to diminish Langsner's possible criminal culpability. Yet she conceded that Langsner had been in contact with Van Voorhis for weeks before the suicide, and had mentored her through several steps toward a possible "hastened death" (as the Final Exit crew likes to call it).
Hale-Rowe said she hadn't contacted medical director Egbert about the Van Voorhis case before the suicide. Egbert's attorney, a savvy old pro from Atlanta named Donald Samuel, asked the woman why she and Langsner had taken pains to keep both their presence and the fact of the suicide from Van Voorhis' sister, Viki Thomas.
"She said her sister would put her away if she knew she was thinking about dying, about ending her life," Hale-Rowe replied.
"Did you encourage her to end her life?" Samuel asked.
"Did you advise her that she should commit suicide?"
"Was it her choice?"
"Yes. Not only her choice -- her request."
The barrister's questions were purposeful: Samuel likely was trying to deflect what prosecutors are bound to argue in their closings -- that Frank Langsner (and by proxy, Dr. Egbert -- who "approved" Final Exit's involvement in the suicide) aided, abetted, advised and otherwise illegally helped the 58-year-old woman to kill herself.
We are usually in the ballpark when it comes to predicting outcomes of trials, having been sitting through them for more years than we like to think about.
This one, however, is tricky.
At this point late in the proceedings, we just can't see a unanimous guilty verdict against either of the right-to-die octogenarians.
Surely, stay tuned.