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News Briefs I

Supreme Court to Hear Doctor-Assisted Suicide Case

Los Angeles Times

Hundreds of thousands of Americans end their lives in sorry shape: stranded in a hospital ward, in pain, sustained by machines, or treated by doctors who zealously preserve life unaware of patients' wishes to forego invasive life-sustaining measures.

This new plague is known to researchers as "prolonged dying," and many health experts believe it is the larger problem behind Wednesday's Supreme Court hearing on the constitutional right to have doctors help people kill themselves.

Proponents of legalizing doctor-assisted suicide invoke America's often deplorable end-of-life care. The plaintiff in one of the two cases before the Court, Dr. Timothy Quill of Rochester, New York, argues that doctors would be less likely to abandon dying patients to futile measures if physician-assisted suicide were a legitimate "healing" option.

At issue in the Supreme Court hearing Wednesday are New York and Washington state laws prohibiting physician-assisted suicide. Federal appeals courts ruled last year that such laws were unconstitutional, violating either a person's right to "liberty" or "equal protection," since people have a recognized right to refuse medical treatment, which could kill them.

If the Court upholds either right, it would strike down state laws against physician-assisted suicide.

Hollywood Madam Heidi Fleiss Sentenced to 37 Months in Jail

Los Angeles Times

A disheveled and tearful Heidi Fleiss, the "Hollywood Madam" who supplied call girls to some of the world's richest men, was sentenced Tuesday to 37 months in prison for tax evasion and money laundering, bringing a quiet end to one of the more lurid chapters in recent Los Angeles history.

The once-defiant Fleiss closed her eyes in relief as U.S. District Court Judge Consuelo B. Marshall imposed a prison term far less than the maximum suggested by federal sentencing guidelines. As interpreted by Marshall, Fleiss' crimes should have carried between 78 and 97 months.

But Marshall, calling the Fleiss case "atypical," said even the minimum sentence would have been far too harsh. Among other things, the judge pointed to testimony from an expert witness who had testified that the guidelines for money laundering had been drafted with mobsters and cocaine cartels - not madams - in mind.

In brief remarks to the judge, Fleiss struggled to express her regret in a voice that was choked with tears.

"I wish. I knew words. To tell you how sorry. I am," Fleiss sobbed, barely able to complete a sentence. "I'm a different person now. I was young. I made terrible choices. Mistakes I wish I'd never made."

The punishment - which includes three years of supervised release, 300 hours of community service, mandatory attendance at a substance abuse program, and a $400 fine - addressed only Fleiss' conviction on federal charges of tax evasion, conspiracy, and money laundering. It did not deal with pandering charges on which she is scheduled to be retried in Los Angeles Superior Court.

Eyewitness Recollections Of McVeigh Provide Little Evidence

Los Angeles Times

After conducting tens of thousands of interviews, federal prosecutors plan to present only six eyewitnesses to provide testimony at the trial of Timothy J. McVeigh that seeks to tie directly his actions to the conspiracy to destroy the federal office building in Oklahoma City, sources said.

In addition, the sources said only one of the eyewitnesses claims to have seen McVeigh and the large yellow Ryder truck in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City moments before a fertilizer and fuel oil bomb inside the truck exploded on the morning of April 19, 1995.

Another witness believes he saw McVeigh stop at a gas station in northern Oklahoma in the early morning hours before the explosion.

But according to the sources, none of the witnesses saw McVeigh purchase any of the bomb components, store the materials in public lockers, or mix the ingredients and fashion the explosive device that prosecutors allege ultimately killed 168 people and wounded 850.