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How a Michigan Congressional Candidate Let ‘Dr. Death’ Off the Hook

Carl Marlinga (Twitter)
• October 4, 2022 5:00 am

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A Michigan Democratic congressional candidate says he has no regrets about declining to prosecute the infamous assisted-suicide advocate Dr. Jack Kevorkian, more commonly known as "Dr. Death" for his role in killing 130 terminally ill patients. Nor does he think there's anything wrong with taking campaign money from Kevorkian's defense attorney.

As prosecutor, Carl Marlinga was in charge of investigating a potential homicide by Kevorkian. Hugh Gale, sick with emphysema, was found dead at the age of 70 from inhaling carbon monoxide from a machine created by Kevorkian, and evidence found by a local Macomb County, Mich., resident indicated that Gale's death was manslaughter at the hands of Kevorkian, whose critics alleged he was getting away with killing vulnerable individuals like Gale for years. One of Kevorkian’s assistants left a journal entry in a garbage bag that suggested Gale asked that his carbon monoxide mask be removed in the middle of the procedure, indicating he did not want to follow through with his assisted suicide.

Marlinga, now running as a Democrat in Michigan's 10th Congressional District against Republican John James, told the Washington Free Beacon he wouldn't change a thing about his 1993 decision as a Macomb County prosecutor not to follow through with charges against Kevorkian. Marlinga at the time said the new evidence suggested "that the death was involuntary and that at the last minute the patient changed his mind," but in the end, he never pressed charges. 

Instead Marlinga believed Kevorkian's claim that he followed a rigid protocol, ensuring that Gale consented to the procedure. The damning note discovered by the local resident, Kevorkian’s attorney Geoffrey Fieger argued, was not evidence that a crime took place.

"There's no regrets with how it was handled," Marlinga said. "The prosecutor is not there as part of a morality play, a prosecutor just has to be there to see if the evidence establishes guilt beyond a reasonable doubt."

When pressed about whether it was appropriate to receive $1,000 in campaign donations from Kevorkian's attorney shortly after dropping the case, Marlina brushed the fact off as not unordinary.

Questions about Marlinga’s relationship with Kevorkian and his attorney could be a nagging issue for him in the final month of the midterm campaign cycle. On the campaign trail, Marlinga has pledged to make sure "our justice system works for EVERYONE, not just those at the top" and claims he "stood up for seniors" as prosecutor, but many of Kevorkian's 130 victims were elderly.

An independent analysis from the London School of Economics and Political Science concluded that Marlinga’s decision not to prosecute Kevorkian was politically motivated. When presented with the case, Marlinga was mounting his first bid for higher office. 

Prosecuting Kevorkian, who, at the time, was popular with Michigan voters, could cause "political damage," the London School of Economics paper concluded. 

"Kevorkian did not operate in a vacuum, and these senior and experienced chiefs brought political agendas of their own to their Kevorkian cases," the paper states.

Over the next 28 years, Kevorkian's attorney Fieger would donate to Marlinga’s various bids for higher office. Fieger’s most recent donation came this year with a max contribution of $2,900 to Marlinga in March.

"I know Geoff Fieger, I like Geoff Fieger," Marlinga told the Free Beacon when asked about the campaign contributions. "Geoff Fieger is a good attorney, he's a friend. And I know he's very loud, he's very opinionated. But we've always gotten along well together."

Three months after Marlinga announced he would not bring charges against Kevorkian, he showered Fieger with praise. Marlinga compared Fieger in an interview with the New York Times to Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall, saying he was a "better attorney."

"Dr. Kevorkian wants confrontation; he wants to be recognized as a pioneer in this area," Marlinga said. "Geoffrey Fieger really fulfills those needs. He'll make this a spectacular, controversial issue."

Following those remarks, Fieger gave $1,000 to Marlinga’s Senate campaign.

When Fieger later ran for governor as a Democrat in 1998, he made a number of controversial remarks, saying "rabbis are closer to Nazis than they think" and that one of his opponent's parents had sexual relations with farm animals. He lost by nearly 25 points.

In 1997, the Los Angeles Times wrote that Marlinga was "sympathetic" toward Kevorkian's practice. Now, Marlinga disputes that characterization.

"I was sympathetic to his victims' plight," Marlinga told the Free Beacon. "I was sympathetic to people who have intractable pain and no hope of recovery."

An investigation from the Detroit Free Press found that Kevorkian’s claims that he followed "strict guidelines" were false. Despite pledging to wait at least 24 hours before assisting a patient to commit suicide, the paper’s investigation found "at least 17 instances in which Kevorkian’s first meeting with the person was also his last."

"Kevorkian … endorsed a written rule requiring that a pain expert be consulted in any case where ‘pain is a major factor' in a suicidal patient's complaints," the paper wrote. "But out of 33 cases in which people came to Kevorkian complaining of chronic pain, he failed to consult a pain specialist in at least 17."

Kevorkian was found guilty by a jury of second-degree homicide in 1999 for injecting a lethal drug cocktail into a 52-year-old Michigan man suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease. He was later sentenced to 10-25 years in prison.

Then-Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm (D.), who now serves on President Joe Biden’s cabinet, granted Kevorkian parole for good behavior in 2007. 

Other reviews of Kevorkian’s medical practice revealed myriad ethically questionable incidents. Studies of his patients found many of them did not suffer from terminal illnesses. 

Five of his patients suffered no disease at all and a majority of them were not in any pain. Some, according to the Economist, likely suffered "from no more than hypochondria or depression."

Kevorkian mounted an unsuccessful congressional campaign for Michigan’s ninth district in 2008, earning just 2.6 percent of the vote. He died from liver cancer in 2011.

"A lot of people don't even remember Jack Kevorkian nowadays, so I don't think it's going to be an issue in the campaign," Marlinga told the Free Beacon. "But again, you know, who knows? I can't say for sure."

Published under: Michigan