But you knew that already. What's news is what went on behind the scenes, FIJA-wise. Or rather, it would be news if we could straighten it all out and report it accurately, but we have several accounts of what happened, and none resembles the other very much.
So, starting with the idea that all's well which ends well, we'll go both backward and forward from May 2, when a Detroit jury acquitted Dr. Jack Kevorkian of charges that he had assisted a suicide after a ban on doing so had been put into effect by the state legislature.
We had been waiting for this trial for quite a while, because it precisely fit the criteria FIJA uses to decide whether to demonstrate and leaflet: it was a high-publicity case, involving what many would regard as a victimless crime (a political crime, a crime against the state, legislated morality--synonyms abound).
Now, accounts differ as to "what went down". Mark Hiselman, FIJA coordinator for Michigan, used contributions (including substantial ones from people like Mary Ruwart) to put together materials and publicity for the event, for launching a FIJA ballot drive for Michigan, and for placing newspaper boxes with FIJA literature in them near courthouses.
In an April 26 letter to FIJA of Michigan Friends, Mark expressed thanks to those who helped, both financially and actively, and took pleasure in the fact that the Detroit News "showed the judge holding a brochure in his courtroom. We are pleased that even judges have an opportunity to be [fully] informed..."
But were the jurors also informed? Not so, according to Tim O'Brien of the Michigan Libertarian Party, who wrote a letter to me on April 28, saying, "We made a conscious and very deliberate decision to wait until after the jury was impaneled before beginning our efforts outside the courthouse. Unfortunately, one of your members was not quite so foresighted. The judge in the case got a hold of one of your pamphlets on the first day of jury selection, excluded any jurors who saw it, and instructed the rest not to accept any handouts while going to and from court."
But an April 27 letter from Virginia Cropsey tells it differently. She asked a Detroit Free Press reporter who had been there throughout the trial what, if anything, happened with regard to the FIJA fliers. As she explained it, the reporter "told me that the judge asked the prospective jurors on Wednesday how many of them had read the flier after [Marvin Surowitz, Mark Hiselman, and I] distributed it [Tuesday morning, April 19]. Several people raised their hands. He asked the chosen jurors on Thursday, after the Libertarian Party of Michigan apparently distributed a similar flier. A couple of jurors raised their hands. [But] on both occasions the judge was low-key about it, and said that he would advise the jurors of the law. He didn't dismiss anyone for it."
"Whatever", as they say. Maybe it was the fact that some or most of the jurors received and read the literature, or maybe it was the fact that Virginia got in some nice licks for FIJA on Channel 7 News (Detroit's largest station), but a "not guilty" verdict in the face of such overwhelming evidence sure does look, taste, and feel like jury veto power in action.
A May 6 column by Prof. Richard Epstein of the University of Chicago came right out and said it: "...the case was not about confusion [over court jurisdiction, or the meaning of the law, as some might believe], it was about jury nullification--the refusal to apply the law as written because of the belief that it is misguided or wrong. As juror Gail Donaldson said afterwards, 'I don't think it is our obligation to choose for someone else how much pain and suffering they should endure.' The jury thought Kevorkian was justified in what he did..."
And on May 12, a Reuters news article discussed the likelihood that the Kevorkian case would lead to "...litigation across the country over laws that ban assisted suicides, and lawyers predict the issue will ultimately be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court."
The article then reports an interview with Michael White, a Santa Monica, California lawyer who is president of the Death with Dignity Education Center. "White said he felt the jury in the Kevorkian case obviously knew he had broken the state law. 'It's a classic case of jury nullification, of a jury not willing to follow the law because the law is wrong...the law hasn't caught up with public opinion.'"
Since then, the Michigan Court of Appeals has held that the law against assisted suicide is unconstitutional. As welcome as that may sound to some, it could also expose to Dr. Kevorkian for prosecution for murder--for the same death or deaths. A new twist on double jeopardy? But now the Michigan Supreme Court is holding the Appeals Court decision "in abeyance" until it decides the constitutionality issue, saying that he may not be charged or recharged with anything until it rules.
Meanwhile, an effort to amend the Michigan Constitution by citizen initiative, headed up by Kevorkian, family, and friends, fell short of the necessary 250,000 or so signatures required to place an amendment protecting the right of self-determination in life, health, and death--thus the right to assisted suicide, on this year's ballot. But about 200,000 people did sign the petition, and the public has thereby already sent a loud message to lawmakers.
For those who want to communicate with Dr. Kevorkian, please realize you're not alone, that he stays well insulated from the public, but that he has been known to correspond by card and letter. His attorneys advise that they are receiving mail for him, so address correspondence to him c/o Geoffrey Fieger, 19390 Ten Mile Road, Southfield, MI 48075.