Final Exit Network Murder Trial Continues This Week -- Prosecution Faces Uphill Struggle

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Manslaughter trial continues this week in downtown Phoenix
​The trial of two aged members of the "right to die" organization Final Exit Network continues in Maricopa County Superior Court today, with prosecutors certainly hoping things go better for them than last week.

Dr. Larry Egbert and Frank Langsner are on trial for conspiring to commit manslaughter in the April 2007 "assisted suicide" of Phoenix resident Jana Van Voorhis. The 86-year-old Langsner also faces an additional count of manslaughter.
 
We broke the story of the closely watched case (cameras for the PBS television show Frontline are in Judge Paul McMurdie's courtroom) a few months after the mentally disturbed 58-year-old woman suffocated herself at her home with a plastic bag and an infusion of helium from a rented tank.  
Family members found the woman's body in her bed a few days after she died.
 
Trouble was, Van Voorhis killed herself in the presence of and with the assistance of defendant Langsner and former co-defendant Wye Hale-Rowe. The latter has pleaded guilty to a reduced charge and is expected to testify against Langsner and Dr. Egbert (Final Exit's "medical director") during the trial.
 
This case has been fraught with legal and moral potholes from the start, what with the inevitable overarching right-to-die issues and other difficult questions. But prosecutors contend that it was against Arizona law for the defendants to have assisted Van Voorhis in expediting her death.
   
The odds of the jury convicting either defendant may have taken a hit last week, when Judge McMurdie ruled that prosecutors cannot elicit testimony about Jana Van Voorhis' precarious psychological state at the time of her death.
 
That was a body blow to the government, as a key component to its case is the undisputed contention that she was suffering from serious mental illness when she solicited the aid of the Final Exit Network months before she died.
 
The judge (a former longtime prosecutor himself) also ruled as legally inadmissible self-incriminating statements made by Scottsdale resident Langsner in the suicide's aftermath to Phoenix police homicide detectives.
 
At this point in the proceedings, guilty verdicts against the two men seem a longer shot than they did at the trial's start, but (to dredge out a cliche -- the Kentucky Derby's just around the corner) a lot of the race has yet to be run.
 
Both defendants are expected to testify in their own defense, but who knows?
 
It remains the state's burden to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, and the prosecution testimony of former Final Exit Network "senior exit guide" Hale-Rowe and another key member of the organization (Roberta Massey) will be pivotal.
 
 

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5 comments
Robert Rivas
Robert Rivas

Why does New Times refer to the trial as a "murder" trial? The answer is obvious, in light of the infantile editorial handling of this story. Another fact error: Nobody involved in the case has ever thought the defendants were "expected to testify in their own defense." Of course by now it is known that they did not testify, but nobody ever thought it likely they would.

New Times says it "broke the story" --- what a crock. A New Times reporter was spoon fed the gummint's story and called it "investigative" reporting. News Break: It is not "investigative" reporting, or "breaking" a story, to lap up the official police viewpoint, as "leaked" to a lazy reporter. The people who originated the concept of an "alternative weekly" would be ashamed. New Times is not "alternative." It's a prosecutor's mouthpiece. In two years covering this story, New Times has never made a serious effort to get past the gummint's story of Final Exit Network. Your reporter actually came to the trial and didn't even introduce himself to any of the many potentially useful sources. He must think it's better not to learn any facts that might stand in the way of regurgitating the gummint line. Too bad the Arizona Republic isn't covering Final Exit Network's landmark trial --- maybe a mainstream medium would produce an actual "alternative" story.

Bob Levine
Bob Levine

When a person decides to end their life using the Helium method they do not suffocate. As anyone who has ever sniffed Helium to change their voice knows, they so not suffocate. What happens is that the Helium displaces the oxygen in the brain and they rapidly become unconscious, painlessly. In time, the lack of oxygen stops the brain from working and the person dies. It is a quick, painless end to what is in many cases, a great relief from endless suffering from an unrecoverable disease.

linbo4
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Friend of Jana
Friend of Jana

I knew Jana for 40 years. My whole family did, because Jana was a "people person;" warm and friendly, she had no problem reaching out to others. She was an extrovert and an enigma. Always eccentric, her behavior became more and more bizarre, over decades.From a bright fun girl, she gradually became a woman who would burden, you might say, those who would still put up with her, with a never-ending list of really frightening physical symptoms. And I say this with profound love, and also a sense of guilt for not being able to tolerate her demand for attention. I know that scores of her old friends also gave up on her. We were busy with our own lives and troubles. But I feel sure that everyone who knew her, if they'd thought about it, would figure that she might someday do this kind of thing. I failed her in life, but I will pray for her soul in death.I had countless conversations with my family (when we were still speaking) about whether she really had all these rare diseases or was it all "in her head." With all respect, but truthfully, her father was extremely mentally ill. And Jana was also a victim of abuse. So probably heredity and criminal circumstances were factors in her illness. She had her demons.Maybe that's why she was so attracted to angels. She collected images, figures and angel lore. These 80-some year-old murderers who took her life WERE demons, or at least doing Satan's bidding when they crept around in the cover of darkness and whispered, "Go ahead and do it, Jana." They've had long lives working for the evil cause of getting tortured souls into Purgatory. God forgives Jana, but these murderers have a special place in Hell.

Fishwife
Fishwife

Spoken by someone whose judgment is clouded by guilt.

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