New Prosecutor’s Task: Deal With Kevorkian Kevorkian Has Quickened Pace Of Assisted Suicides Since Last Trial Ended

SUNDAY, NOV. 10, 1996

Dave Gorcyca thought he had lost his bid to become prosecutor of Oakland County, a sprawling collection of mostly white-collar Detroit suburbs whose million-plus residents include Jack Kevorkian, the doctor trying to legalize assisted suicides.

But while the apparent winner, Steven Kaplan, a Democrat, was doing a radio interview on Wednesday, an election worker discovered an 18,000-vote error, and within minutes Gorcyca, a 34-year-old lawyer, learned he was the new prosecutor-elect instead.

Now Gorcyca, a Republican, faces the same political and legal challenges that destroyed the career of his predecessor, Richard Thompson, whom he defeated in an August primary: What to do about Kevorkian?

“Unfortunately,” Gorcyca said in an interview, “I know how I deal with that issue - assisted suicide - will define my career, and will do so very early on.”

But how Gorcyca handles the issue after he takes office on Jan. 1 is far from clear, even to him. For years, the legal establishment has proved powerless to stop Kevorkian from helping people die.

Three juries have refused to convict Kevorkian, a retired pathologist, who has presided over at least 46 suicides, 36 of them in his native Oakland County.

Early this year the current prosecutor, Thompson, unsuccessfully tried to convict Kevorkian at two long and expensive trials. At the first, Kevorkian was charged under a now expired law banning assisted suicide. At the second, he was charged under a Michigan Supreme Court ruling that assisted suicide could be prosecuted as a “common-law” crime. Both trials ended in acquittals.

Gorcyca, who was previously unknown, challenged Thompson in the primary and said he would not waste taxpayer money on further futile Kevorkian prosecutions “unless the Legislature gives me an enforceable law.”

Yet Gorcyca is not happy with the current situation involving Kevorkian, who, since the second trial ended on May 14, has quickened his pace of assisted suicides; 16 times since then he has shown up at hospital emergency rooms with the body of a client.

Twice this fall the police have raided motels where Kevorkian was meeting with a prospective patient. Both times he reappeared at a hospital the next day with the person’s body.

“We need a written law that closes any loopholes,” said state Sen. William Van Regenmorter. But the odds of passing legislation decreased after the Democrats captured the Michigan House in Tuesday’s elections.

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