Elderly Woman Pleads Guilty Plea Today in Phoenix "Assisted-Suicide" Case

Readers may remember our story on the so-called "assisted case" of Jana Van Voorhis, a 58-year-old Phoenix woman who died mysteriously in her bed in the spring of 2007. 

It was a particularly sad and bizarre yarn (even by our standards), and had a slew of dicey legal and ethical issues wrapped inside of it.

One of our key interviews in the piece was with Wye Hale-Rowe, then 79, a retired family therapist and great-grandmother who now lives in Michigan. She was then was a volunteer for the Final Exit Network, an offshoot of the now-defunct Hemlock Society.

Earlier today, Hale-Rowe pleaded guilty in Maricopa County Superior Court to facilitation to commit manslaughter, a felony.

In striking a plea deal with county prosecutors, Hale-Rowe agreed to testify against the three remaining defendants in the case, an aged Scottsdale man who allegedly also assisted Van Voorhis in killing herself, and two senior Final Exit officials from out of state.

Hale-Rowe told us in 2007 that the late Van Voorhis "was in the throes of what we call existential suffering. Even though their physical pain may be managed, just being alive is a burden [to such people]. They're not able to function much with reference to other people."

In other words, Van Voorhis suffered from a serious mental illness, not debilitating physical illness.

Phoenix police reports show that Hale-Rowe and retired college professor Frank Langsner "helped" Van Voorhis kill herself by sucking in helium from a rented tank through a hose, with with an oxygen-eliminating hood snugly over her head.

Before her plea bargain, Hale-Rowe had been charged with manslaughter and conspiracy to commit manslaughter. Scottsdale resident Frank Langsner still faces the same charges.

The other two defendants in the unique case, Dr. Larry Egbert and Roberta Massey, both from the East Coast, are charged with conspiracy to commit manslaughter.

Jana Van Voorhis' brother-in-law Tom Thomas, who was in court this morning with his wife, Van Voorhis' sister, Viki, expressed tempered satisfaction with plea bargain.

"We want to see how she testifies against the others," Thomas says. "I do think she has learned her lesson and has completely distanced herself from the [Final Exit] group."

Deputy County Attorney Vince Imbordino was the lead prosecutor on the case, and Michael Kimerer represented Wye Hale-Rowe (though another attorney sat in for Kimerer this morning).

We recall something that Hale-Rowe (who confirmed being present at about 20 assisted suicides, most of them with family members of the deceased present) told us when we were doing the original story on the case.

 "People do have other options besides offing themselves," she said, before noting, "I just went into a risky case [with Jana Van Voorhis], and now I'm stuck with what happened."