Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition
The jury in Eudora Kansas found Ronald Heskett guilty of second-degree murder in the death of Vance Moulton, who lived with cerebral palsy. Heskett, who was a care-giver for Moulton, claimed that it was an assisted suicide. Heskett confessed to asphyxiating Moulton to death.
I was interested in this case because Heskett said that the death was an assisted suicide. It is possible to cause death and claim it was an assisted suicide, which tends to have a lesser sentence.
Last week I wrote about the first day of the Heskett murder trial, the second day of the trial, the third day of the trial, and the fourth day of the trial. This week I wrote about the fifth day of the trial, and the sixth day of the trial in Eudora Kansas.
According to the Lawrence Journal-World, today the jury heard the closing arguments, and then deliberated for 4 hours before finding Heskett guilty of second-degree murder.
“(Moulton) didn’t commit suicide. He wasn’t assisted to commit suicide. He was murdered,” Melton said.
Melton said that even if jurors believed that Moulton asked Heskett to kill him, Heskett physically killing Moulton still constituted murder because suicide is “the deliberate destruction of one’s own life.”
“It’s not suicide if someone asks me to shoot them and I point a gun at them a pull the trigger,” Melton said. “That’s not suicide; that’s murder.”
Further, he questioned why few witnesses besides Heskett testified that they’d thought Moulton was suicidal.
“Mr. Moulton was depressed for a full year and no one noticed except for the defendant,” Melton said.
Prosecutors over-charged Heskett’s case. He said that charging Heskett with first-degree murder or, in the alternative, second-degree murder, left jurors with a difficult decision, as Heskett already admitted to killing Moulton — but not with premeditation or with the motive in the prosecution’s theory of the case.
“If the evidence in this trial does not support the crimes charged, you must find him not guilty,” Warner said. “You may think you can’t do that. It’s not your fault. It’s the way this case was charged.”
Warner argued Tuesday to let jurors have the option of convicting his client of assisted suicide or voluntary manslaughter if they could not come to a unanimous decision on the first- and second-degree murder charges. Douglas County District Judge Peggy Kittel, however, said those charges did not count as lesser-included charges to the first-degree murder charge, so she did not allow them as options to be included in the jury instructions.
“When you’re a defendant, it’s an up-hill battle and it’s lonely. But Mr. Heskett is a good man and he deserves to be treated with respect to the law,” Warner said. “It’s going to be tough to acquit him, but you must.”
The attorneys and the judge discussed the matter outside of the jury’s presence. They agreed the jury could legally consider the alternative charge of second-degree murder if they didn’t all agree on the first, but (Judge) Kittel said, “We can’t really tell them.” Instead, Kittel told jurors to refer back to their jury instructions for direction. A juror responded, “That’s what we thought.”
According to the Lawrence Journal-World:
Last month, prosecutor Eve Kemple said she had offered Heskett a deal to plead guilty to first-degree murder, and in return she would allow Heskett to argue at sentencing for a 25 years to life prison sentence, instead of first-degree murder’s mandatory “Hard 50” — or 50 years to life. The Hard 50 became mandatory in first-degree murder cases for crimes that happened after July 1, 2014, when the sentencing law changed.
... Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson said in a news release that the “jury agreed” with the prosecution’s motive theory.
“We never believed that Heskett was trying to help his friend commit suicide,” Branson said. “Van Moulton was murdered by Ronald Heskett to cover up the fact that he had stolen money and used it to buy a car. The jury agreed.”
Kittel ordered Heskett to stay in jail without bond until his sentencing hearing, which she scheduled for Nov. 6.
Depending on his criminal history, Heskett faces anywhere from about 12 to 54 years in prison.
I am concerned that the jury convicted Heskett of the lesser charge of second-degree murder because Moulton was a person with a disability. Crimes against people with disabilities should be treated equally as crimes committed against able-bodied people. Nonetheless, there were extenuating circumstances.