PONTIAC, Mich. -- Dr. Jack Kevorkian has been charged with first-degree murder for helping a woman with Alzheimer's disease take her own life with his 'suicide machine,' Oakland County Prosecutor Richard Thompson announced Monday.
Janet Adkins, 54, of Portland, Ore., died in Kevorkian's van in a rural Oakland County park on June 4 after pressing a button on his suicide device that released a lethal drug into her system.
'Dr. Kevorkian was the primary and legal cause of Janet Adkins' death. He cannot avoid his criminal culpability by the clever use of a switch,' Thompson said at a news conference.
Under Michigan law, conviction on a charge of first-degree murder carries a mandatory penalty of life in prison without possibility of parole. Thompson conceded it would not be easy to get a conviction.
'There's no question about it. This is going to be a difficult case to convict Dr. Kevorkian on because of the emotional aspects of the case,' Thompson said. 'I fulfilled my sworn duty and I just can hope that the jury performs their duty.'
Kevorkian arranged to turn himself in to Michigan State Police for arraignment Monday afternoon in Clarkston District Court, Thompson said.
Thompson said it took nearly six months to charge Kevorkian because his office wanted to research carefully all the medical and legal implications of the case.
Telephone conversations between Kevorkian and Dr. Murray Raskin, Adkins' physician, will be central to the prosecution's case, Thompson said.
'Kevorkian called Dr. Raskin on May 16 and Raskin returned the call on the 18th, at which time Kevorkian informed him what he was going to do to his patient, Janet Adkins. Raskin told Kevorkian he felt it was inappropriate, that Janet Adkins had several more years of quality life, ' Thompson said.
Thompson said the conversation is documented by medical records from the University of Washington Hospital, where Adkins was being treated with an experimental drug.
Kevorkian, anticipating Monday's announcement, said late last week he does not fear criminal prosecution.
'Send me to jail. Put me in solitary if you want. At least I'll be with honest people when I'm by myself.'
Thompson said he would base his case against Kevorkian on a 1920 Michigan Supreme Court opinion that held that a husband who mixed and placed poison near his wife at her request so that she could drink it was guilty of first-degree murder when she died as a result of drinking the poison.
To date, the case has not been reversed by the Michigan Supreme Court, nor has the law been revised by the Michigan Legislature, Thompson said.
'I have a constitutional duty to faithfully enforce the laws of this state as enacted by the legislature and interpreted by the court, regardless of the tragic and emotional aspects of this case,' he said. 'Under our constitution, the legislature is empowered to declare what is a crime. And as a prosecutor, I have no legitimate authority to ignore or stipulate away duly enacted laws.'
Thompson said his investigation into the Adkins case led him to conclude that there was no reason for her to take her own life and no reason for Kevorkian to assist with the device he invented.
'Janet Adkins was not terminally ill or suffering pain,' he said. 'For me not to charge Dr. Kevorkian under these circumstances would be a courruption of the law and turn Oakland County into the suicide mecca of our nation.
'Dr. Jack Kevorkian is not above the law; and if he wants to change the law, he should address the legislative branch of government. If physicians are to have a license to kill in addition to their license to heal, that license must come from the legislature, not the prosecutor.'
Thompson's announcement came one day before trial was to begin in a civil case brought by his office in response to Adkins' death nearly six months earlier.
Oakland County Circuit Judge Alice Gilbert is deciding whether to make permanent her temporary order barring Kevorkian from using his so- called suicide machine.
Kevorkian has insisted he has broken no laws and is convinced authorities are acting imporoperly in proceeding against him.
'They're making up their own laws as the court goes on,' he said last week. 'Even the Nazis went through the motions of legislating officially through a duly constitued government before they took court action. We're not even up to the Nazis' standards. How do you like those apples?'