MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) - A jury on Thursday found the national right-to-die group Final Exit Network guilty of assisting a Minnesota woman’s suicide in 2007 and interfering with a death scene, prosecutors said.
Sentencing has been scheduled for August in the case stemming from the suicide of Doreen Dunn, 57, who authorities said died by helium asphyxiation with two Final Exit group members present in her home. The convictions carry maximum fines totaling $33,000.
The Dakota County jury deliberated less than two hours before reaching its verdict, which a Final Exit attorney said would be appealed.
“Final Exit Network has been convicted solely for exercising its First Amendment-protected right to freedom of speech,” attorney Robert Rivas said in a statement.
Prosecutors had claimed Final Exit members were at Dunn’s home and cleaned up after the suicide. Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom said the network’s action was “not only legally wrong it is morally reprehensible.”
“We are pleased to have brought this organization to justice for these crimes,” Backstrom said in a statement.
Dunn, who lived in a Minneapolis suburb, was not terminally ill but had suffered from chronic pain since a medical procedure more than a decade before her death, which was originally attributed to coronary artery disease.
The death investigation was reopened in 2010 when Georgia investigators told police Dunn had become a member of the organization in the months before her death.
Authorities said Dunn had numerous communications with various members of Final Exit before her death and a grand jury in May 2012 indicted the group and four of its members on various charges of assisting Dunn’s suicide.
None of the individuals indicted stood trial. Former medical director Dr. Lawrence Egbert, who was present when Dunn died, was granted immunity to testify for prosecutors while the other member present at Dunn’s death has since died.
Charges were dismissed against a third member and a fourth was excused from the trial due to ill health.
Final Exit Network is a non-profit organization that has said its members can be present but do not encourage, provide the means for or assist in a person’s suicide.
Minnesota is not among the states where assisted suicide is legal. Physician-assisted suicide is legal in Oregon, Washington, Montana and Vermont.
Reporting by David Bailey; Editing by Bill Trott