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News Briefs, part 2

Kevorkian Trial Opens

The Washington Post

Almost four years after he began helping sick people to kill themselves, Jack Kevorkian went on trial here Thursday on a charge of violating a Michigan law enacted specifically to stop his crusade to encourage physician-assisted suicide.

In an opening statement, Kevorkian's lawyer, Geoffrey N. Fieger, told the jury the case involved "a great cause" similar to the worldwide struggle for human rights. But as the long-anticipated trial began to unfold in a basement courtroom in Detroit Recorder's Court, Fieger also mounted a technical defense by claiming that the case should be dismissed because it is being tried in the wrong jurisdiction.

It was a surprising tactic in a trial that Kevorkian has said he welcomed as a way to undermine a law that he holds in contempt and that is already under constitutional assault in three other cases. If convicted, the 65-year-old retired pathologist could face four years in prison and a $2,000 fine.

Kevorkian is charged with assisting the suicide last August of Thomas Hyde, 30, a landscape designer who suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. Hyde was the 17th person Kevorkian helped to commit suicide.

Known as "Dr. Death," Kevorkian was also charged in connection with three subsequent assisted suicides, but those charges were dismissed by judges. One judge held that there is a right to suicide based on privacy guarantees in the Constitution, while two others dismissed the charges on narrow technical grounds.

Justice Rebuts Criticism Of Rocky Flats Handling

The Washington Post

The Justice Department Thursday issued a rebuttal to congressional criticism of its handling of the 1989 investigation of environmental and safety problems at the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons complex.

The operator of the Colorado plant, Rockwell International Corp., paid an $18.5 million fine, the largest hazardous waste fine in history, in 1992 after pleading guilty to 10 hazardous waste and clean water violations as part of a plea agreement.

"This case was not handled perfectly in the sense that any case of this nature with complicated investigatory and institutional issues is likely to have difficulties," said an 88-page report issued by the department. "... None of these factors, however, was related to institutional breakdowns or improper political or personal influences."

The report serves as a response to criticism of the case by the investigation subcommittee of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, headed at the time by former Rep. Howard Wolpe, D-Michigan, which claimed the plea agreement was too lenient. The Justice Department report said the agreement reflected "an appropriate exercise of prosecutorial discretion," said the report.

The case attracted wide attention when an independent-minded grand jury tried to issue a report that was more critical of Rockwell and the Department of Energy than the prosecutors would endorse. The Justice Department refused to help prepare the report; prosecutors later prepared a paragraph-by-paragraph rebuttal of the grand jury's report.