Sunday, February 22, 2009

Lodi woman facing assisted suicide charge

This case in California may be important but it is important to refrain from commenting further until information is available. If she assisted in the suicide of her brother, then she has broken the law. But until it can be proven, these issues should be left up to the prosecutor to decide whether enough evidence exists to proceed. Ir is interesting that she was also charged with causing a gross bodily injury.

It is important to note that she is receiving sympathy for possibly being involved with the death of a person with a disability

This is an edited version of the text from Keith Reid that was published in the Stockton Record on February 21, 2009.

A Lodi woman could serve up to six years in prison for allegedly assisting the suicide of her ill brother, a charge law experts say is extremely rare.

June Hartley, 42, appeared in San Joaquin County Superior Court on Friday, charged with helping her brother, James, 45, inhale enough helium to suffocate on Dec. 7.

Assisted suicide cases are a rarity in California and elsewhere, said University of the Pacific's McGeorge School of Law Professor Michael Vitello.

"The only headline case is that of Dr. Jack Kevorkian in Michigan who advertised it, taped it, and served time in jail as a martyr for those wanting to end their suffering," said Vitello, who has been teaching law for 32 years. "You might come across a handful of cases of assisted suicide charges, but it's literally very few across the country each year."

If convicted, June Hartley could serve up to three years on a count of assisted suicide and another three years on an enhanced charge that she caused gross bodily injury to her brother, Deputy District Attorney Sherri Adams said.

"The additional charge was made because of the nature of the crime, and because there was a death involved," said Adams, who also called the case the first she'd ever seen.

June Hartley's arraignment was continued to Feb. 27 because her attorney, Randy Thomas of Woodbridge, is on vacation and could not represent her. Attorney David Wellenbrock filled in for Thomas but declined to comment on behalf of Hartley and her family.

Prosecutors say James Hartley, a blues musician, was suicidal after he suffered a series of strokes in 2006 that caused him to lose much of his mobility, speech, eyesight and hearing. June Hartley became a suspect after she reported her brother's death to police on Dec. 8. Her brother's disabilities and lack of mobility prompted police to question how he came to obtain a helium tank and inhale the gas by himself.

"This is a tragic incident for all involved," said Adams. "There are two elderly parents that lost their son, and their daughter may now go to jail."

Judge Franklin M. Stephenson released Hartley on her own recognizance. Adams said she did not object because the Lodi resident and her attorneys have been very cooperative in their investigation.

"I don't think she's a flight risk," Adams said.

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